Jacknife: The Music Of Jackie McLean

Dan Bilawsky By

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If you ask any well-informed jazz fans and performers about the legacy of Jackie McLean, you're likely to be met with a response that focuses on one or two specific areas: his work as a mentor-educator and/or his playing on a number of classic Blue Note dates from the '60s. But how many will mention the songs—McLean's own compositions and the writings of his fellow travelers—that appeared on those albums? Probably very few. Saxophonist Steven Lugerner rightly sees that as a problem and he's doing something to address it through the work of Jacknife, a band dedicated to promoting the music of Jackie McLean and his colleagues.

While Lugerner never came into direct contact with McLean, who passed away in 2006, he's essentially one of his pupils once-removed, having studied with saxophonist Mike DiRubbo who drew straight from the well. The lessons with DiRubbo, along with an abiding interest in McLean's recorded works and some time spent in the classroom with McLean associate Charles Tolliver, have broadened and deepened Lugerner's respect for the late saxophonist's body of work. That fact comes through clearly in the music presented here.

On The Music Of Jackie McLean, Jacknife—a quintet with a trumpet-alto front line—focuses on material culled from four of the saxophonist's albums: New Soil (Blue Note, 1959), Let Freedom Ring (Blue Note, 1963), It's Time (Blue Note, 1965), and Jacknife (Blue Note, Recorded in 1965 and 1966/Released in 1975). The band delivers six numbers in total—three from McLean's pen, two from Tolliver, and one from drummer Jack DeJohnette—and covers a wide range of styles and directions in the process. The album opens with Tolliver's "On The Nile," a modal jazz number in three that shines a spotlight on Lugerner and trumpeter JJ Kirkpatrick. When working as one they prove to be a well-matched pair, capable of balancing and shaping ideas with a musical blend. But when they strike out on their own, it's a different story. Kirkpatrick's centered trumpet acts as a foil for Lugerner's blustery and boisterous saxophone. That continues to be the case across the entire album.

The five remaining tracks each offer something a little different. "Das Dat" is probably the simplest of the bunch, living life as a pure blues ride that features some standout soloing from bassist Garret Lang; "Cancellation" hits hard from the start, enters a propulsive zone, devolves into a wonderful jumble near the hand-off from Lugerner to pianist Richard Sears, and experiences a return to form; and "Climax" comes on with a simple melody and jittery undercarriage before it takes off for the races and turns into a showcase for soloists. The final two tracks—the fiendishly lyrical-cum-energetic "Melody for Melonae" and the cool swinging, hard bopping "Hip Strut"—round out the program and offer two differing yet sympathetic views of McLean-as-composer. Lugerner really hit the nail on the head here, so one can only hope that there's more to come from Jacknife.

Track Listing: On The Nile; Das Dat; Cancellation; Climax; Melody For Melonae; Hip Strut.

Personnel: Steven Lugerner: alto saxophone; JJ Kirkpatrick: trumpet; Richard Sears: piano; Garret Lang: bass; Michael Mitchell: drums.

Title: The Music Of Jackie McLean | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Primary Records

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