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John McNeil is a veteran trumpeter and composer who has been part of the New York scene since the late 1970s. He was a member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and the Horace Silver Quintet and has led his own groups. I have two of his Steeplechase albums in my own collection, and although '03's This Way Out received good reviews, I haven't heard any of his work in some time.
The theme of this album is insomnia and McNeil's ability to deal with it. The first half of the session is equally divided between atmospheric ballads and outre free jazz ventures which reflect the bipolar attempt to get some sleep. McNeil's musical companions are Jeff Jenkins, a 1980s New Thing pianist now relocated in Denver; and bassist Ken McLagan, early accompanist of Jane Ira Bloom. The title tune, which opens the album, is a hypnotic ballad, which McNeil plays a la Miles Davis circa 1960, and lures into his web, as does the traditional folk tune "The Water is Wide," which features McLagan's arco statement on the melody. It does not prepare us for the juxtaposition of "The Other World" or "Wired Together," which are sandwiched in between these compositions. The liner notes do a far better job at telling the listener what to expect with "...far out Charles Ivesian piano tone-cluster mashing notes..." a la Cecil Taylor, where McNeil attacks the melody with great ferocity in what surely must be the nightmare part of insomnia.
The schizoid nature of the album serves to emphasize the wide moodswings that it creates. The longest tune, "Each Moment Remains," is a memorable performance that could have been the centerpiece of a more mainstream album, and "Escape from Beigeland" is a neo-bop composition. In "World Without Velco," the interplay between trumpet and piano are neatly illustrated in an smartly tailored manner. Most of the compositons were written by McNeil, with Jenkins providing one tune and co-writing two others.
Track Listing: Sleep Won't Come, The Other World, The Water is Wide, Wired Together, Each Moment Remains, Escape from Beigeland, Penumbra, Polka Party, Somnambulation, Nanotech, World Without Velcro.
Personnel: John McNeil, trumpet; Jeff Jenkins, piano, prepared piano; Kent McLagan, bass
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.