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Nature Boy (2000)

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Cedar Walton

The year 2000 saw the release of a Blue Note CD featuring Jackie McLean that presented the alto saxophone master in a new perspective. Normally a firebrand, McLean banks the embers on this one to create a sound more mellow than his fans have heard in the past. But something is gained in the slow burn, and beautiful music is the beneficiary on this collection of jazz standards. McLean is joined in his endeavor by three of the top musicians in his trade: Cedar Walton on piano, David Williams on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. This impeccable aggregation is definitely up to the task of reining in the edgy side of McLean's playing, as they engage in a musical dialogue and trade off solo riffs. Witness their musical conversation in the album's opening number, a moody "You Don't Know What Love Is." Just like a meaningful discussion among friends, every bandmember has something to say, to which the others listen respectfully and then respond. Whether the sound is poignant as on "Nature Boy," reflective as on "I Can't Get Started," or tender as on "Star Eyes," the music is effectively evocative of the mood. "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" allows the foursome to go out gracefully with the atmospheric, romantic quality that suffuses the entire recording. The heretofore unheard side of Jackie McLean is something to be enjoyed. ~ Rose of Sharon Witmer