Music Matters

Jackie McLean One Step Beyond

Jackie McLean ‘One Step Beyond’

Mysterious. Innovative. Gripping. Endlessly fascinating. Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ is the first in a loose “trio” of albums that includes McLean’s ‘Destination…Out!’ and trombonist Grachan Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ as they all share quite a bit of musical DNA and personnel. I hesitate to call them a trilogy as I’m not certain that was anyone’s artistic intent, though hearing them together in any sequence feels like a “whole” listening experience. This album is extremely well-titled: McLean had clearly heard the war cries of Ornette Coleman and @johncoltrane pushing the boundaries of modal jazz, and this session reflects McLean’s desire to put his own stamp on their approach by keeping hard bop in the mix and forming a unique melodic frontline (vibes, trombone and alto) who create that mysterious atmosphere that does feel “beyond”. Trombonist Grachan Moncur’s two compositions have an eerie, somewhat dark approach and an occasional unsettling undercurrent (“Ghost Town” is well-titled) that veer into somewhat disonnant territory—the band isn’t exactly out to lunch here, but definitely waiting for a table. McLean’s two songs go down a bit smoother, but just a bit—his alto still retains its acerbic bite and the while the structures and playing are rooted in blues/hard bop, it’s swing with sharp elbows. Bobby Hutcherson wields two instruments of power: vibraphone and space. The effortlessness with which he wields both is often mind-blowing. While bassist Eddie Khan holds the rhythmic ebb and flow accountable, he and the rest of the group are perpetually challenged, underscored by, and inspired by 17 year old drummer Tony Williams. In particular, the dialogue between Williams and Hutcherson is MESMERIZING and sounds especially clear on this Music Matters 45RPM 2XLP edition. This is one helluva band, and they made one helluva record. For awhile, I was obsessed with ‘Destination…Out!’ and thought it was the best of the three. Then I got sucked into the vortex of Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ and that LP rose to the top of the heap. Guess which record is in heavy rotation now?

Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

Wayne Shorter’s entire @bluenoterecords run is great, but if pressed I’d have to say this one is my favorite. Every time I play it I enjoy it a bit more—I don’t know that there’s a bigger or better endorsement of an album. It’s everything one could ask for: thrilling compositions that are hummable, memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuance of the session. If this were the first jazz record you ever heard, you’d have picked a fantastic entry point. Veteran jazz listeners return to it again and again for good reason. The year was 1964 and Wayne brought along 2 of his Miles Davis second great quintet band mates Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) who by this point had both stage & studio experience enough with Wayne’s music to knock it out of the park. Add firebrand trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drum powerhouse Elvin Jones and it’s no wonder that ‘Speak No Evil’ rises above great. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. This is Music Matters MMBST-84194, reissued in 2015 and sounding SPECTACULAR

Kenny Drew Undercurrent

Kenny Drew ‘Undercurrent’

One of the most underrated, underdiscussed and underappreciated record in the @bluenoterecords catalog. Love to hear arguments for/against this notion so fire away in the comments. Breaking this down a bit further:
1. This is easily pianist Kenny Drew’s best album as a leader, though he’s better known as a sideman (“Blue Train” for example). He’s nimble and fleet-fingered, capable of dropping jaws during a solo but he’s also got mad swing and a gorgeous approach to balladry: “Ballade”, the album’s sole downtempo track and the album’s closer, is also it’s highlight.
2. The one-two punch of Hank Mobley (tenor sax) and up & comer Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) who basically say “screw fire & ice, how about fire & more fire!” Here in this pure hard bop context, these two have mad rapport with both each other and Drew, making for a captivating frontline.
3. They rhythm section of Louis Hayes (drums) and Sam Jones (bass) are relentless and dynamic, driving the frontline with freight train intensity—they’re not going to let the frontline have all the fun.
I suppose the title could set expectations that won’t be met—“Undercurrent” might imply an atmosphere that’s laid back or tranquil but other than the closing ballad, this is an uptempo affair. Don’t sleep on this one! This is a Music Matters 33RPM pressing MMBST 84059, stereo