Original Pressing: Blue Note, BLP 4165.1 (1964)
Jackie McLean (as), Grachan Moncur, III (tbn), Bobby Hutcherson (vib), Larry Ridley (b), Roy Haynes (d)
Cover design: Reid Miles
Liner notes: Jackie McLean
Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 25, 1964.
My gateway to Jackie McLean was 1963’s Let Freedom Ring , after which I worked my way forward for a few albums, before going through his Blue Note catalog more systematically. Freedom was, in the eyes of many, the first in a trilogy of sorts, with the others being One Step Beyond and Destination…Out! (Because of the stylistic and personnel similarities, Grachan Moncur’s Evolution could rightly be considered part of the package, as well.) A Fickle Sonance and Freedom were recorded only four months apart, yet they almost sound like they are by different artists. Jackie had been undertaking a profound journey of musical experimentation behind the scenes and Freedom was his first record to document his new direction and developing interests.
Sonance and Freedom are quite different from each other, but, despite its title, One Step Beyond takes Jackie many steps past Freedom. This is largely due to the new musicians with whom he was hanging out in early 1963: 17 year-old Bostonian wunderkind Tony Williams, Grachan Moncur, III, and the new kid in town from LA, Bobby Hutcherson. As he writes in his liner notes for Destination…Out!, Jackie wanted to continue what he had begun:
The sounds and moods that were captured by the group on One Step Beyond inspired me to continue to work along those lines. There was so much tonal quality woven by this group that I wanted to record with Grachan, Bobby, and myself again.
Jackie loved playing with Tony, but the upstart transplant from Boston soon caught the attention of New York jazz scene and was in high demand. Taking over behind the kit, Roy Haynes, 21 years Tony’s senior, ensures that the band is as electrifying as they were on Step. Roy sounds just as comfortable in an avant-garde setting as he did in bop, 10 years earlier. New trick, meet old dog.
Musically, Destination…Out! picks up where Step leaves off, perhaps turning up the drama, just slightly, in spots. It’s a four song collection of utterly modern modal2 jazz, played at varying tempos, from dirge-like to “Bird-like.”
Although the leader on both this record and its predecessor is obviously Jackie, one must not underestimate the impact of Grachan Moncur in helping to establish Jackie’s sound during this period of his career. Of the eight songs included on the two albums, Moncur composed five of them. His “Love and Hate”, which begins the set, is simply one of the most emotionally moving songs in jazz history. As the horns take turns on Moncur’s theme, a very slow, mournful groove drapes a veil of melancholia on the proceedings.
Jackie takes the first solo and gives a lesson in economy. Slow, blues-inflected phrases and sparkling arpeggios suggest love lost, a broken man sobbing. In his spare solo, Moncur continues the less-is-more motif, demonstrating that one needn’t have the chops of Jimmy Cleveland to make a powerful statement. And Bobby, channeling an aching sense of loss, offers some of the most beautiful passages he’s ever played. Finally, Larry Ridley plays a short, powerful solo that underscores the sorrowful mood.
The jagged “Esoteric”, with its alternating stop time and uptempo sections is not for the faint of heart. It demands much of the listener and that’s part of why I find the ’60s avant-garde so endlessly interesting. The solos continue over the irregular structure of the head, with Jackie bleating, searching, and weaving in those cool descending arpeggios that he loved to play during this period. This tune is also one of Roy Haynes’s ’60s highlights, as he masterfully bridges the two very different sections. In Roy’s ride cymbal, you can hear that perhaps Tony Williams had his ears open. And then there are the spectacularly tasty fills around the kit during the fast parts. Amazing performance.
In Jackie’s composition “Kahlil the Prophet”, we have pure, prototypical ’60s post-bop. Modal and full of modulations3, it blazes along at around 300 bpm. Not surprisingly, Moncur’s chops don’t accommodate 8th notes at this tempo, but he finds a way to make hispoint. Behind both Jackie and Grachan, Bobby Hutcherson’s piano-like comping leaves plenty of space for the soloists. And when it’s his turn to go, his brilliant solo begins slowly and eventually leads to flurries of 8th notes, creatively varying the rhythmic groupings by changing the notes he accents, a technique that Bird pioneered.
Finally, after all the cerebral music that precedes it, “Riff Riff” closes the record on much more familiar territory. The head is a variation on a 12-bar minor blues. Traditionally, that form would follow this progression:
I-7 I-7 I-7 I-7
IV-7 IV-7 I-7 I-7
II-7b5 V7alt I-7 I-7
But in “Riff Raff”, we have four bars each of I-7 / IV-7 / I-7, omitting the turnaround in bars 9 and 10. A relatively small change that adds interest. The solos then adhere to the standard progression notated above. Again, this is an interesting choice as the final tune on the record, almost “grounding” the program with the use of a more traditional form.
Although I always read liner notes, rarely do they offer anything close to the sort of illumination that their presence promises. And reading lots of them will certainly create a sense of deja vu: a biographical sketch, a superficial description of the material on the record. You know the drill. (Nat Hentoff’s often incisive notes are a notable exception.) But this all changes when Jackie McLean is the author, because you never know what he’s going to say. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Jackie actually contributes his own liner notes to several of his albums, including this one, Let Freedom Ring, and One Step Beyond. Perhaps I’ll do an overview of Blue Note liner notes at some point.
- First edition, mono
- Plastilite “ear”
- “VAN GELDER” stamp in run-out
This was a pretty straightforward eBay acquisition, notable mostly for its stellar condition. This is not a particularly rare pressing, which is nice for my bank account.
1. Full disclosure: I’m a recovering “misomonist” (my own neologism for a “mono hater”). Having bought so much classic jazz on CD in the ’90s, almost all of which were stereo mixes, I avoided anything monaural, probably irrationally. To me it seemed like the opposite of hi-fi. But then, some years ago, this record helped me to see (hear?) the light. My copy, which plays NM, sounds absolutely amazing, not at all “one-dimensional.” It was a revelation, and it changed my collecting habits.↩
2. Lots of people throw around the term modal without knowing what it means. “Modal” just means that the soloists base their improvisations on scales rather than chords. In the ’60s, these were usually the Dorian, Phrygian, or Mixolydian modes/scales.↩
3. Key changes.↩