4, 5 and 6
[Rudy Van Gelder Remasters]
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2008, Volume 15, #3
Written by John Metzger
Wed March 19, 2008, 07:00 AM CDT
Jackie McLean picked up the saxophone for the first time at the age of 15; eight years later, after being schooled by the likes of Bud Powell and Miles Davis, he issued his debut as a bandleader. It was a task for which he wasn’t quite ready, though he soon would blossom in the role. Undoubtedly, the feverish pace at which he worked — he released five albums for Prestige in 1956–57 — spurred his development. Named for the various ensemble configurations that he employed during its making, 4, 5 and 6 — the second of his recordings for Prestige — is a solid if unremarkable set that finds McLean essentially learning on the job. He had yet to harness and control his tone, but the aggressive edge of his performance style is unmistakable.
Fronting a quartet that featured pianist Mal Waldron, bass player Doug Watkins, and drummer Arthur Taylor, McLean tackled a trio of standards — Sentimental Journey, Why Was I Born?, and When I Fall in Love — with mixed results. Sentimental Journey is the most problematic, and initially, McLean appears to be searching for his footing. Similarly, the musicians sound as if they are feeling one another out. It isn’t until Waldron’s piano solo that everything begins to fall into place. By comparison, it is the rhythm section along with Waldron’s insistent prodding that keeps Why Was I Born? and When I Fall in Love afloat. The rapid tempo at which these ballads are taken not only plays to McLean’s feisty approach, but it also injects enough propulsion into the tunes to maintain interest.
Nevertheless, the tracks that were cut with larger ensembles serve as the highlights of 4, 5 and 6. Trumpeter Donald Byrd, a veteran of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and a holdover from McLean’s Prestige debut Lights Out, helps to bind the collective together on both Contour and Abstraction. His direct give-and-take with McLean and Waldron certainly is compelling, and when Hank Mobley joins the fray on a happy-go-lucky interpretation of Charlie Parker’s Confirmation, the sparks really begin to fly. Granted, 4, 5 and 6 isn’t one of the finer efforts in McLean’s canon, nor do its contents approach the level of musicianship that is showcased on albums by others who were working within the era’s hard bop scene. In terms of hearing how the artistic development of McLean and his colleagues took shape, however, it proves to be a remarkably insightful set.
4, 5 and 6 is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Other Rudy Van Gelder Remasters Releases
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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