Jackie McLean

Complete 1955-1957, Vol. 1

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Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean (1932-2006) led 12 recording sessions during his pre-Blue Note period, resulting in a body of work that has been damned with faint praise by generations of critics whose endless caveats all stem back to self-critical statements made by McLean himself. In 2007, Jazz Connections released three volumes of the earliest McLean, providing listeners with an unprecedented opportunity to savor and re-evaluate the music, unencumbered perhaps by pre-existing prejudicial biases. Jackie McLean's first session as a leader took place (like most of his material from this period) in Hackensack, NJ on October 21, 1955, resulting in an LP entitled The New Tradition that was released on the Ad Lib record label. His next album, Lights Out! came together on January 27, 1956 and was the first of his many entries in the Prestige catalog. The third LP, bearing the title 4, 5 and 6 was recorded on July 13 and 20, 1956, with tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley sitting in on an eleven-and-a-half-minute version of Charlie Parker's ""Confirmation"." The trumpeter on all three dates was young Detroiter Donald Byrd, already a skilled improviser schooled by Art Blakey and a cohort of John Coltrane en route to his adventures with Gigi Gryce. Jazz from this period was pregnant with postulates and creative possibilities that would take several years to hatch and mature. Note that the Lights Out! session took place three days prior to the recording of the Atlantic album Pithecanthropus Erectus, which was a turning point both for leader Charles Mingus and McLean, who was counseled (or bullied) by Mingus into moving beyond direct emulation of Charlie Parker and developing his own personal sound. Ming's "Profile of Jackie" is emblematic of this process; after the two came to fisticuffs (and a bit of knife brandishing by McLean), Mingus replaced him with Shafi Hadi (Curtis Porter). This volume in the complete pre-Blue Note Jackie McLean sessions closes with the first four titles from the album Jackie's Pal, the recording debut of trumpeter Bill Hardman (1933-1990). All of the music on this collection is excellent, and the 13-minute blues serving as the title track of Lights Out! is a bitch! The evolution of the McLean rhythm section during this period involved the best efforts of pianists Mal Waldron and Elmo Hope, bassists Doug Watkins and Paul Chambers, and drummers Ronald Tucker, Art Taylor, and Philly Joe Jones. This prologue to Jackie McLean's later triumphs is packed with good music that holds its own ground.

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