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Tippin' The Scales (1962)

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Sonny Clark

Recorded in between his modernist masterpieces Let Freedom Ring and One Step Beyond, Tippin' the Scales finds Jackie McLean returning to a safer, more straightforward hard bop scenario for a short spell. Since the album wasn't really in keeping with the direction McLean was heading (and since that direction proved to be successful), it stayed in the vaults for 22 years before finally seeing the light of day in 1984. As one might expect, given the nearly universal quality of McLean's Blue Note output, Tippin' the Scales is solid from top to bottom, even if it's not nearly as forward-looking as its predecessor. There's a lot of bluesy hard bop with a few unpredictable twists and turns, and the presence of pianist Sonny Clark lends a cool tone to the session overall, making for a nice contrast with McLean's frequently surging passion. Clark contributes three of the six pieces, which are in keeping with his laid-back, swinging style, highlighted by the amiable, appropriately titled "Nicely." There are also two McLean originals -- the fairly challenging title track and the more basic "Rainy Blues" -- and a rendition of the standard "Cabin in the Sky," where McLean's on-the-edge timbre and intonation are put to surprisingly warm use. Though it's one of the more conventional items in McLean's discography, Tippin' the Scales offers an opportunity to hear the altoist in an uncommonly relaxed quartet setting, playing (along with anchor Clark, bassist Butch Warren, and drummer Art Taylor) at a typically high level of musicianship. ~ Steve Huey