Jackie McLean

New and Old Gospel
(Blue Note Records)

The late alto saxophonist Jackie McLean was infamous for a rich and powerful tone, a heroin addiction, and being the dude who nearly stabbed iconoclast Charles Mingus after the big bully bassist punched him. But one thing overlooked during McLean's career — due to the relatively restrained modal jazz compositional structures featured in more noted albums like Bluesnik — was his vanguard improvisations. This reissue of a 1967 recording shines a light on the bandleader that's rooted in spontaneity, partly thanks to sideman Ornette Coleman, who ditched his white plastic alto sax ax to add upbeat and playful colors on trumpet. The McLean-composed "Lifeline" saunters through four distinct movements and showcases the bandleader magnificently running through all registers of the horn during the 21-minute hard bop jam. The album rounds out with two Coleman-penned tunes: "Old Gospel," which features a catchy, hummable head, and the sauntering moody blues of "Strange As It Seems." The two soloists are given the perfect amount of improvisational space to take flight by a piano-bass-drums rhythm section of Lamont Johnson, Scott Holt and Billy Higgins, who gig in a style reminiscent of the great John Coltrane quartet of the '60s. This Rudy Van Gelder edition was one of McLean's final 21 classic Blue Note sessions, and definitely one of the best.
 
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