September 30, 1996 12:00 PM

Jackie McLean

Alto saxophonist McLean is one of today’s few active jazzmen whose musical personalities were formed during bebop’s heroic early years. A teenage prodigy from Harlem’s Sugar Hill, he tagged along in the late ’40s behind the great modern-jazz trailblazer Charlie Parker. At 64, McLean is as fiery a player as ever. His solos burn with the kind of commitment that can turn a roomful of blasé onlookers into cheering partisans. Leading a quartet whose members are about half his age (pianist Junko Onishi, bassist Nat Reeves and the superb Lewis Nash, a drummer who knits rhythms with a surgeon’s precision), the saxman offers no gimmicks, just first-class jazz. In McLean’s hands, the alto isn’t the sleek, silver-toned instrument Johnny Hodges made it, but urgent and caustic. Fond of punctuating phrases with a throaty rasp, McLean has a frank earthiness most of today’s young players are too inhibited to attempt. Almost any other saxophonist would treat the standard “A Cottage for Sale” as elegiac and forlorn; McLean swaggers through it. In the silence that follows the leader’s hypnotic coda to the Miles Davis tune “Solar,” drummer Nash can be heard to murmur an admiring “Yeah, Jackie.” Amen. (Blue Note)

You May Like