This is the second appearance of jazz legend Jackie McLean here. By coincidence, the first time was almost exactly one year ago: August 3, 2013. The album I wrote about then was the 1956 Prestige classic, “4, 5 and 6.”
As usual in this circumstance, I won’t waste a lot of time here repeating what I already wrote in the previous review. McLean was born May 17, 1931 in New York City and died in Hartford, Connecticut on March 31, 2006. He took up the alto sax at age 15 but quickly changed to tenor. He appeared on his first recording as a sideman (or sideboy, if you will) with Charlie Singleton at age 17. McLean died clean, but spent a large part of his life fighting his addiction to heroin.
As a side note, I’d like to mention that the connection between heroin and jazz musicians has been a nasty and continuing affair, not just affecting musicians who are “ancient history.” Two days after actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose, a 57 year old friend of his, “druggie jazz musician” Robert Vineberg, a sometime sax player, was arrested after police raided his apartment and allegedly found 300 bags of heroin.
Before I move on the actual subject of this piece of writing, I want to give you one more external link to explore. In 1960, Playboy magazine got together an impressive group of jazz musicians and discussed the subject of jazz and drugs. The musicians involved in the discussion were some of the biggest names of that era: Duke Ellington, “Cannonball” Adderley and his brother Nat, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. You can read the interview here.
Okay, enough of that. Let’s move forward!
The Jackie MacLean album I want to tell you about this time is the 1960 Blue Note release, “Jackie’s Bag.” This album was recorded during two sessions separated by over a year and a half. The first three songs were laid down on January 18, 1959 and the remaining six were recorded September 1, 1960. The second session had some changes in personnel, so here are two lists for you.
January 18, 1959 (Tracks 1-3)
Jackie McLean, alto sax
Donald Byrd, trumpet
Sonny Clark, piano
Paul Chambers, bass
Philly Joe Jones, drums
September 1, 1960 (Tracks 4-9)
Jackie McLean, alto sax
Blue Mitchell, trumpet
Tina Brooks, tenor sax
Kenny Drew, piano
Paul Chambers, bass
Art Taylor, drums
The original vinyl LP version of “Jackie’s Bag” contained only three songs from each recording session. The expanded capacity provided by compact discs allowed the CD version to give us all three usable tracks from the first session and six tracks from the second instead of only three.
Of the nine songs, six are McLean’s compositions and three were written by sax player Brooks.
We open with one of McLean’s pieces, “Quadrangle.” The guys jump right into it from the opening notes, pausing only long enough to give Jones an opportunity to show his stuff on the drums and then they’re back at it again. This is an energetic piece that definitely sets the pace for the rest of the album.
Here is “Quadrangle”:
“Blues Inn,” another McLean original, follows. Once again we have everyone joining in for the head, but about a minute in it becomes McLean and Clark’s show, with Chambers and Jones setting a nice pace. Byrd steps forward and takes the lead momentarily almost three minutes in while the rhythm section continues to bop heartily. At around the five minute point Clark takes over, followed two minutes later by Chambers. Shortly thereafter the whole gang reappears and takes it to the end.
The first few seconds of “Fidel” is devoted to Jones on the drums, but after a few seconds we are off to another rousing start involving just about the whole group. This is another great song from McLean’s seemingly bottomless pit of material. The guys do a splendid job on this one, particularly trumpeter Byrd. When Byrd steps aside and McLean takes over, we are treated to a truly great performance.
The first Tina Brooks song on the disk is track 6, “Isle Of Java.” This is a wonderful song, with absolutely delightful performances by McLean and trumpeter Mitchell.
“Street Singer” is another Brooks work and is the longest track on the album. This one has the slow tempo of a great blues piece, driven by Drew’s piano and propelled along by the relentless rhythm section. Trumpeter Blue Mitchell was one of the great unsung heroes of jazz, and his contribution here is ample proof of that.
Jumping ahead to the final track, we find ourselves with one final song from the fertile mind of Tina Brooks, “Medina.” This is a great song to close the album on. It has everything you could ask for in a hard bop extravaganza, including halfway through a nice section with the whole group blowing, strumming, banging away as if their lives depended on it. The combination is stunning, to say the least.
Here is your chance to hear this fantastic performance:
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you when I tell you that Jackie McLean’s fantastic album, “Jackie’s Bag” will make a superb addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
Thank you for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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