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Jacknife (1965)

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Larry Willis

Jackie McLean's Jacknife sessions have had a peculiar and somewhat disjointed history in his discography. Initially issued in 1975 on a vinyl two-fer as part of the Blue Note reissue series, it included separate previously unreleased sessions from 1965 and 1966, the former with trumpeters Lee Morgan and Charles Tolliver, the latter in a quartet with only McLean as the leading horn. In CD form, the five tracks from 1965 were offered on a single CD. Pianist Larry Willis and a young drummer named Jack DeJohnette were on both recordings, with Larry Ridley (1965) or Don Pate (1966) filling the bass chair. As both sessions could not fit on a single CD, it's understandable but a shame that a double CD could not be produced including the fine quartet date. Nonetheless, the 1965 group has many worthwhile and often challenging moments for the then 33-year-old alto saxophonist. Of the five tracks here, "On the Nile" at over 12 and a half minutes should be a favorite, as its modern modal mainstream mystery wafts slowly over time like sands in an hourglass, a steady caravan trip with the deep piano chords of Willis, the evocative trumpet of Tolliver, and McLean richly harmonizing. Tolliver also wrote the title track, a sour-toned hard lemonade bopper on the cutting edge considering this mid-'60s time frame. McLean penned the tuneful, enjoyable "Blue Fable" on the steady swing side, briefly dishing out calypso beats. Morgan's feature is DeJohnette's "Climax" in a chopped-up piano riff with the drummer, as a bop line from the horns takes up the urgent, kinetic charge. The only track with both trumpeters, "Soft Blue" is easy as the title suggests, harmonic and warm, with solid solos showing the stark contrast between the approach of the two brassmen and the ruminating piano of Willis. These recordings do not tell the complete story of this time period -- please explore the Willis composition "High Frequency" and McLean's incredible "Combined Effort" from 1966 for examples of the quartet really cutting loose sans the trumpeters. The Complete Blue Note 1964-1966 Sessions four-CD limited-edition box set on the Mosaic label houses both Jacknife recordings. The single CD is quite worthwhile by itself, but tells only half of the story. ~ Michael G. Nastos