When it comes to inside playing versus outside playing, John McNeil has always believed in keeping his options open. The trumpeter can be quite lyrical and melodic, but that doesn't mean he won't get into dissonant outside playing when it's appropriate. McNeil has been greatly influenced by Miles Davis and Chet Baker, but that hasn't prevented him from learning some things from Don Cherry, Lester Bowie and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre. And that open-mindedness is a definite advantage on Sleep Won't Come, which finds the trumpeter forming a drumless trio with pianist Jeff Jenkins and bassist Kent McLagan. Recorded in 2003 and 2004, this post-bop/avant-garde disc reminds us just how enjoyably unpredictable McNeil can be. McNeil is at his most lyrical on a tender, vulnerable performance of the traditional Irish song "The Water Is Wide," but he has no problem taking things in a more abstract, mildly avant-garde direction on "The Other World" and "Penumbra" -- mildly being the operative word. Sleep Won't Come, which is dominated by McNeil's own compositions, is not an exercise in complete atonality; compared to the work of a free jazz firebrand like saxophonist Charles Gayle (just to give one example), this release isn't all that left-of-center. Rather, Sleep Won't Come is an example of a talented, broad-minded improviser using both inside and outside playing to his creative advantage (with the inside ultimately having the upper hand). McNeil, regrettably, is not as well-known as he deserves to be in the jazz world, and this memorable date underscores the fact that he is well deserving of greater exposure.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson