The Best of Jackie McLean
Thirty years ago Fantasy Records inaugurated a series of double-LP reissue albums (an industry first, they were known as “two-fers”) that compiled previously released material of many musicians whose catalogs they owned. Last month they began a new series, now known as “The Best of,” and are releasing them on their Milestone, Pablo, Prestige and Riverside labels. Among them are CDs by such label stalwarts as Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and Miles Davis. Equally deserving of attention is alto saxist Jackie McLean, whose CD collects eight mid-’50s tracks he recorded primarily with pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Art Taylor. As did every other alto player, McLean had to work his way out of Charlie Parker’s shadow and effectively does so. His crisp playing on the mainly relaxed tunes here is complemented nicely by trumpeter Donald Byrd on the 12:55 “Lights Out,” with marvelous accompaniment by Elmo Hope. The highlight is a sensationally reworked version of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You.” Altoist John Jenkins locks horns with McLean on “Alto Madness,” the peppiest tune here.