Thursday, June 15, 2006

revelations #1: jackie mclean

Revelations are like love: you can't hurry them, you just have to wait. She said revelations don't come easy, it's a game of give and take.

1. For a long while, the only Jackie McLean album I had was Let Freedom Ring and I never really got past McLean's famously sharp intonation on that one. Even the section devoted to McLean in A.B. Spellman's Four Lives in the Bebop Business failed to spark renewed interest.

Last week-end, during a stroll down the hot and sunny Champs Elysées, I popped into the local FNAC and ended up getting Destination Out (along with the newly-(re)issued Andrew Hill Pax, Gnarls Barkely's St. Elsewhere and T.I.'s King). Darcy's awesome post on the importance of Jackie McLean (and on the album One Step Beyond in particular) really surprised me and it sprang to mind when I saw the album on the racks. His conclusion that "Virtually everyone playing today owes this Jackie McLean-Grachan Moncur-Bobby Hutcherson outfit a tremendous debt. We are all the inheritors of their 'New Thing' legacy" is proven true from the very first notes of Grachan Moncur's "Love And Hate." Its pace, harmonic texture and mood, as well as the space afforded the soloists (in clock terms, but more importantly, in terms of where they're allowed to go) and the creative yet immediately expressive and limpid ways they use it are still breath-taking, 40+ years later. I'll have to check out Let Freedom Ring with my new ears, especially as McLean's intonation wasn't even an issue for me on Destination Out.

There's often talk of eschewing the head-solos-head form (as in pop, where the verse-chorus-verse pattern is regularly derided by the avantists). Granted, it can be stifling and seem rote, but an album such as this one shows that the problem isn't the form itself, but the too-frequently unimaginative use that's made of it. Destination Out relies on the h-s-h on all four tracks, but brings in other elements to liven it up. It seems to me that this "livening up" has become a pretty important part of the slow widening of the mainstream Ben Ratliff likes to talk about.

It's too bad that I have to send out a belated RIP just as I'm starting to come to grips with his work and stature, but at least it has a little more meaning now.