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Bluesnik (1961)

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Freddie Hubbard

Bluesnik, Jackie McLean's seventh session as a leader for Blue Note Records, was one of only two recordings issued by McLean in 1961. With a lineup of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Doug Watkins, pianist Kenny Drew, and drummer Pete La Roca, McLean laid down a hard blowing session of six tunes based completely on blues motifs. Many critics -- as well as jazz fans -- hold to the opinion that Bluesnik may be McLean's most accessible session for the label. That said, not all of these tunes are blues numbers strictly speaking. They use blues forms, but don't all fall into the conventional 12-bar structure, and therefore even move hard bop paradigms a bit. The title track opening the set is a prime example of this given that it quotes the theme in 12-bar but moves through a knotty ten-bar sequence before roaring into a furious but fluid cut time structure that allows for a maximum "stretching" of the changes by Drew. Drew's "Cool Green," screws around with the 12-bar in the melody, but given the introductory statements made before each line and in the solo breaks, it too pushes the standard blues architecture. There are the great moments in blues here that helped to establish McLean as a giant, such as "Drew's Blues," and the lovely "Torchin'," that closes the set. Hubbard's role here is relatively minor in that he had not yet established himself as a leader and he was still growing into his choppy, taut method of soloing. The swing factor of the rhythm section is undeniable, especially the interaction between Drew and La Roca. In all, this is a monster session effortlessly performed by a soloist at an early peak with a supporting cast of blazing sidemen. ~ Scott Yanow