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Swing, Swang, Swingin' (1959)

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Walter Bishop Jr.

One of Jackie McLean's earliest Blue Notes, Swing, Swang, Swingin' parts company with the vast majority of his output for the label by concentrating chiefly on standards (only one of the seven tunes is a McLean original). Perhaps as a result of Blue Note's more prepared, professional approach to recording sessions, McLean sounds invigorated here, catapulting each melody forward before launching into a series of impassioned improvisations. Not that every track is a mind-blowing meltdown -- McLean's playing always fits the mood of the song -- but his total commitment to the material is evident throughout the album. He's also very much the focal point of the quartet, which includes pianist Walter Bishop, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Art Taylor. McLean's unique, cutting tone -- always threatening to go ever so slightly out of tune -- lends a particular urgency to his melody statements and extended notes, highlighted by an intense and swinging version of Cole Porter's "I Love You" and an exuberant take on Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance." Though Bishop and Taylor are less well-known than their compatriots, they offer active support that helps push McLean even more. Swing, Swang, Swingin' may not be as groundbreaking as McLean's more modernist work, but it's a solid session from an artist just beginning an incredible hot streak. ~ Steve Huey