Jackie McLean: Right Now! (1965)

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Jackie McLean: Eco
Jackie McLean: Right Now! (1965)

The Reid Miles-designed cover of this album by altoist McLean is a Blue Note classic. The hammered-out typewriter font blown up large and the thump of the exclamation point hinted at - and the intense opener Eco confirmed - the tough music within.

Altoist McLean, born in New York in 1932, studied with his neighbour Bud Powell and played with Thelonious Monk. By the time he signed to Blue Note in 1959, he'd briefly been in Miles Davis' All Stars, and had worked with Charles Mingus and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.

He had an economic, hard-edged and bluesy tone which came into its own when he recorded his classic Let Freedom Ring (in 1962), then One Step Beyond and Destination Out (both 1963), and It's Time! (1964).

Their titles declaim their contents. McLean was wrestling with explorations beyond standard bop changes.

Right Now!, despite the urgency of the title, typography and some of the bristling tunes, was a slight step back, and in some ways sounds better for it. Poor Eric, dedicated to Eric Dolphy who had died suddenly six months before, is a lovely ballad from pianist Larry Willis with McLean's understated and melancholy playing drifting to a hymnal close with Bob Cranshaw playing arco bass.

Elsewhere, however, McLean takes his abrasive tone to straight ahead bop: on Christel's Tune he takes chorus after chorus, each dipping and diving, sometimes referencing the blues and at other times reaching for whatever Charlie Parker used to hear in his head; the title track has the same urgency which propelled McLean’s earlier work.

McLean made a few other albums for Blue Note, none quite as good as Right Now!, and in the early 70s took up university teaching in Connecticut. He enjoyed a revival in the 80s and 90s, and after a long illness died in 2006.

This 2004 reissue with an alternate take of the title track and remastered by the original producer Rudi Van Gelder is an excellent place to check out the man who was once asked by Charlie Parker to kick him in the bum for some infraction.

McLean didn't - but that doesn't mean he wasn't a kick-arse player.

Here's the evidence.

These Essential Elsewhere pages deliberately point to albums which you might not have thought of, or have even heard . . .

But they might just open a door into a new kind of music, or an artist you didn't know of. Or someone you may have thought was just plain boring.

But here is the way into a new/interesting/different music . . .

Jump in.

The deep end won't be out of your depth . . . 

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