It takes bravado to call your album ‘Cool Struttin’. It’s a perfect title for this essential record though, summarizing the swagger, swing, and attitude of the music succinctly, and with iconic artwork to complete the package. It seems like everybody woke up to the brilliance of this LP over the last decade. Blues and chemistry are the core drivers here: bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones were a well-oiled rhythm machine, sharing a bandstand with Miles Davis almost nightly, and having worked with pianist Sonny Clark on prior sessions. Trumpeter Art Farmer and alto saxophonist Jackie McLean had also done sessions with Clark, Chambers, and Jones, and the two of them had played together for a while with tenorist Gene Ammons, so there was a solid foundation upon which these four long tracks are built. Art Farmer’s tone is refined, and his lines are sophisticated. McLeans’ tone is fiery, and his lines have a youthful urgency—the pairing works brilliantly. Clark’s playing is elegant, soulful, and beautiful, with a bounce that’s accented by a rhythm section who know exactly when to step on the gas with a bit of encouragement, and when to give a wide berth to the soloists. Speaking of driving, that brings me to the album cover, which has always fascinated me. Based on the direction the man and the woman (Ruth Lion, wife of Blue Note exec Alfred) are walking, it seems inevitable that they would meet off-frame. Or would they? The slightly blurry automobile on the opposite side of the street in the background appears to be pulling out into traffic. Where to? Is there a connection to the man? The woman? Both? Was it intentional or a happy accident that the bottom hem of her skirt and his overcoat line up perfectly? Great photo! This record is the total package—the two Clark originals are excellent, the take on Miles’ “Sippin’ at Bells” is wonderful, and the Chuck Henderson/Rudy Vallee standard “Deep Night” is a joy. It’s beautifully recorded, expertly played, and has a vibe that goes down smooth with morning coffee or a nighttime whiskey. Jazz newbies and veterans rave about ‘Cool Struttin’ for good reason
Don’t judge a book by its cover. The artwork on the jacket might give one the impression that the music within falls somewhere on the electric/funkified/psych-tinged end of the late 60s/early 70s jazz spectrum, but that is *NOT* what’s going on here. ‘Demon’s Dance’ is a terrific acoustic jazz record that sits right on the border of hard-bop and post-bop. On the one hand, it’s not as far out as some of McLean’s inside/outside records of the early 60s like ‘Destination…Out!’ or ‘One Step Beyond,’ which some may view as a step backward. On the other hand, I’d argue that this was progressive hard/post-bop of the highest caliber and very advanced, even if it was more accessible. The session is led by Jackie McLean’s alto sax, though the record could just as easily have been co-billed with young trumpet virtuoso Woody Shaw who has as many stellar, spotlight moments as McLean. Props also to the perpetual motion artistry of young Jack DeJohnette on drums, which blends swing and propulsion in equal measure without ever sounding show-off-y or heavy-handed. Scott Holt (bass) and LaMont Johnson (piano) complete the quintet. McLean and Shaw each contribute two compositions, and there are also two tunes written by trumpeter/composer Cal Massey. ‘Demon’s Dance’ was McLean’s 21st and final album for Blue Note after an incredible decade of releases. McLean would shift his focus to educational pursuits for the rest of the decade and then began a series of releases on Steeplechase in the early 1970s. I missed acknowledging Jackie McLean’s birthday yesterday and was reaching for ‘Consequence’ (Lee Morgan’s playing is just devastating on that LP) to spin and review, but as you can see from the album artwork, ‘Demon’s Dance’ does tend to draw the eye! This record has gotten ridiculously difficult to find on vinyl, but it is available on streaming services. ‘Demon’s Dance’ would make a great release
Mysterious. Innovative. Spellbinding. 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 it them a trilogy as I’m not certain that was anyone’s artistic intent, though hearing them together in any sequence feels like a holistic listening experience. This album is extremely well-titled: McLean had heard the clarion call of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane pushing the boundaries of modal jazz, and this session reflects McLean’s approach to coloring outside the lines. Yet it’s strongly rooted in hard-bop, and it swings like mad in many places, making it an inside/outside record that’s perhaps a bit more approachable. McLean built a unique melodic frontline (vibes, trombone, and alto) who create an atmosphere that’s otherworldly…it does feel rather “beyond,” yet somehow incredibly pleasing to the ear. Trombonist Grachan Moncur’s two compositions have an eerie, foreboding tone (“Ghost Town” particularly) that veer into occasionally dissonant territory—the band isn’t totally out to lunch here, but definitely waiting for a table. McLean’s two songs go down a bit smoother, but just a bit. McLean’s alto still retains its acidic bite, and while the structures and playing are rooted in blues/hard bop, it swings with claws unsheathed. Bobby Hutcherson is the undisputed master of the 37th Chamber of Vibraphone, wielding mallets with both astonishing fluidity and lethal consequences. Bassist Eddie Khan holds the rhythmic ebb and flow accountable. Still, he and the rest of the group are perpetually challenged by—and, more importantly, inspired by—17 year old drummer Tony Williams. Williams performance throughout is simply incredible. In particular, the dialogue between Williams and Hutcherson is MESMERIZING and sounds especially clear on this Music Matters 45RPM 2XLP edition. Recorded this day, 30 April, 1963
Whether Jackie McLean was deliberately taking a page out of the playbook by surrounding himself with a group of uber-talented, younger players to push his capabilities, or whether he was simply looking to build a band he felt best able to blow the doors off the studio; mission accomplished. ‘New York Calling’ is perhaps McLean’s best record of the 1970s. ‘New York Calling’—recorded and released in the Fall of 1974–grooves effortlessly between modal and advanced hard-bop, with occasional nods to the inside/outside influences that made McLean’s 60s albums like ‘Destination…Out!’ and ‘One Step Beyond’ so compelling. Those are fleeting sonic glimpses at best, though, and the majority of this record is pretty melodic, though still cerebral enough to satisfy more adventurous ears. McLean, who’d recently returned from a few years in Europe, sounds energized and engaged throughout, getting gold stars for both playing and band leadership. But the heroes of this session are pianist Billy Gault and trumpeter/arranger Billy Skinner who between them composed all five tracks on this beast of a record. The tunes are all interesting, the arrangements clever, and the requisite musicianship is first class. Bassist James Benjamin and drummer Michael Carvin keep things tight but loose, while Jackie and his son Rene (tenor/soprano sax) just WAIL. Even on the more mid and downtempo tunes such as “Star Dancer,” there’s a quiet intensity of fire & brimstone, and the acerbic, trademark sharp tone that reminds you that you’re listening to Jackie McLean. This one’s relatively easy to find in the bins, and available across all digital platforms (though missing a track on Tidal for some reason). Good listen! Originally issued on Steeplechase SCS-1023, this is a US pressing on Inner City Records IC-2023
Great set of advanced hard bop recorded live at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco 13 Nov 1961. The set is mostly standards, plus a blues-based original and (most notably) the first appearance of Dorham’s “Us” (aka “Una Mas”) which he’d truly nail in April ’63 with Mighty Joe Henderson in the sax chair. But back to Nov ’61, the Dorham/McLean frontline work marvelously together. McLean—who was definitely wearing a bit of Coltrane on his sleeve that night—was slowly inching towards the more progressive sounds he’d find in 1963, and Dorham was also enjoying the edges of hard bop but there aren’t yet many sharp angles in their playing. Instead, they channel their more adventurous impulses into intensity, with “Lover Man” and “It Could Happen To You” being exceptionally well-played. All-star points to pianist Walter Bishop Jr. who sounds like he’s been playing with these guys for years. Bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Art Taylor bring plenty of finesse and swing—if you like your hard bop served up sizzling, you’ll be happy the tape was rolling that night. This is Japanese reissue from 1978 via King Records GXF-3119 of Pacific Jazz PJ-41, stereo
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?
Joining the chorus of folks acknowledging Lee Morgan’s birthday today, I thought I’d call out this under-discussed session featuring Morgan in a sideman role. ‘Easterly Winds’ from pianist Jack Wilson is one of those “under the radar” Blue Note gems deserving a spot on your playlist, if not a space on your shelf. Wilson is a melodic, energetic pianist who fronts a killer sextet that includes Lee Morgan (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Garnett Brown (trombone), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). The record opens with the boogaloo dance floor romp “Do It”, a rug-cutter (though not of the cherubic hue @walteragross) to get the blood pumping and feet tapping. Good tune. An even more interesting Wilson original follows entitled “On Children” which has fine solos from Brown and Morgan, and then the “A” side closes with the Johnny Mandel standard “A Time for Love”. The “B” side features two more Wilson originals and then closes with Frank Strozier’s “Frank’s Tune” which features McLean’s best solo, Morgan’s most thoughtful solo, and is my favorite track on the LP. Good stuff. Recorded 22 Sept 1967, released March 1968 as BST 84270. Widely available digitally, and not too difficult to find on vinyl