The best analogy I could use to describe alto saxophonist Jackie McLean’s sound is that of a boxer. Maybe Rocky Graziano or Jake LaMotta, scratching, clawing and always coming at you with everything he’s got. McLean, a childhood friend of Sonny Rollins, studied with Bud Powell and eventually Charlie Parker. His musical bloodline runs directly from the bebop inventors. Jackie Mac recorded first, at age 19, with Miles Davis and soon became a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. His stint with Blue Note records from 1959-1967 yielded 21 classic discs. He bridged jazz from bebop to hard-bop to free jazz and post-bop, all the while maintaining his fiercely raw aggressive tone. In the 1970s and 80s he concentrated his energies at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford where he earned a position as a full professor. The Hartford community benefited not only from his broad jazz experience but also his ability to raise consciousness and money. His artists’ collective opened a $6.7 million dollar cultural center and performance space. He resigned with Blue Note in 1996 releasing two previous discs Hat Trick and Fire And Love both packed with good old Jackie Mac intensity.
We know he can still rumble, but he chooses to sing, figuratively, on his latest. His choice of eight classic ballads is a thing of beauty. Accompanying him are a cast of, dare I say mellowed, veteran players, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Davis Williams and smiling drummer Billy Higgins. Don’t think for a moment that this crew has gone soft on us. McLean still carries that acerbic tone. It’s with these masters that prove that a slow ballad can swing and hit just as hard as any hard bop workout. Jackie Mac still packs a solid one-two combination.
Track List:You Don’t Know What Love Is; Nature Boy; I Can’t Get Started With You; What Is This Thing Called Love; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Star Eyes; A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.
I love jazz because it swings.
I was first exposed to jazz in Houston.
I met Joe LoCascio and Bob Henschen.
The best show I ever attended was Pat Martino.
The first jazz record I bought was Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
My advice to new listeners is to relax on 2 and 4 beats.