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One Step Beyond (1963)

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Anthony Williams (Tony Williams)

In 1963, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean was well aware of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. He assembled a band with vibist Bobby Hutcherson, who had already played with Eric Dolphy, drummer Tony Williams, bassist Eddie Khan, and trombonist/composer Grachan Moncur III. While still adhering to the hard bop principle, One Step Beyond's title is literal. The introduction of space as an element in the twin-horn front line is consistent with what would come later that year on Destination Out! McLean is clearly hearing the Eastern modalism and intervallic invention in Coltrane's sound at this point, but still moves in his own direction, sticking very close to the blues and the hard, even relentless, swing provided by Williams on the kit. The CD version of the album contains two takes of McLean's "Saturday and Sunday," which make use of the insistent blues line and Williams' driving and dancing drumming style. But the true visionary compositions here are Moncur's "Frankenstein" and "Ghost Town." Their unconventional solo horn melodic statements followed by two horn choruses and their irrepressible urge to use Hutcherson's vibes as a contrapuntal element, while spreading out his chords so wide that he comes off as a pair of pianos playing complementary harmonic strategies, are revolutionary. Add to this Moncur's insistence on soloing inside the changes as McLean moves through the register and becomes increasingly dissonant, and you have a true doppelgänger effect -- but one that swings like mad. One Step Beyond may have been the first volley McLean fired in the direction of the new jazz, and played it safe enough to ride out the hard bop he helped to create, but he cannot be faulted as a bandleader, as this music still sounds fresh, vital, and full of grainy mystery. ~ Thom Jurek