Jackie McLean - One Step Beyond

Blue Note

Recording Date: Van Gelder Studio. Englewood Cliffs, April 30th, 1963

Re-release date (RVG Edition): February 7th 2009

Availabilty: CD, MP3 download, iTunes

One Step Beyond cover

Long unavailable, the re-release of this great album is welcome. Together with "Destination Out!", recorded in the same year, "One Step Beyond" charts the opening up of the hard bop that Jackie McLean had helped to originate to new experimentation. It connects with the developments in modal jazz being made by John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy – as recorded on "The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings", for example – but takes its own distinctive direction.

It is not difficult to understand why Blue Note had failed to reissue the album for so many years; the music is acerbic, sometimes dissonant and decidedly not for those who like an easy time listening to jazz. Which translates to 'difficult to market' from the record company point of view. So, it is pleasing that the interest in jazz is such that this music can get the re-exposure that it deserves.

The greateness of "One Step Beyond" begins with the greatness of the band - Jackie McLean (alto saxophone); Grachan Moncur III (trombone); Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone); Eddie Khan (bass); Tony Williams (drums).

Tony Williams at age just 16 was gigging in Boston when he was discovered by Jackie Mclean.

"So Jackie was the reason for me to really get to where I am," Tony Williams once said. "He was the link."

At age just 17 on "One Step Beyond", his drumming has the same impact that it would have when a few months later he joined Miles Davis in the second great quintet.

Trombonist Grachan Moncur III plays a pivotal role, acting effectively as musical director of a band that produced not just "One Step Beyond" and "Destination Out!" under Jackie McLean's name but also the landmark album "Evolution" under his own. His composing and arranging is the equal of Jackie McLean's, as the two Grachan Moncur III compositions on "One Step Beyond" - "Frankenstein" and "Ghost Town" – show.

And then there is Bobby Hutcherson; a truly great musician whose sense of harmony and progression in his vibe playing has inspired so much of the best jazz. In addition to his own albums as leader ("Dialogue", Components", "Happenings","Stick-Up!", "Oblique", "Patterns") there are masterworks with Grant Green ("Idle Moments", "Street Of Dreams"), Andrew Hill ("Judgment!", "Andrew!!!"), Eric Dolphy ("Out To Lunch"), Tony Williams ("Life Time") and Joe Henderson ("Mode For Joe") that taken together with his work with Jackie McLean and Grachan Moncur III all but define the development of experimentalism at Blue Note.

"One Step Beyond" shares the magic that at this one place (New York) and this one time (1963 – 1967) this concentration of creativity was in full bloom.

There are four tracks. The RVG remaster has an additional second take of the opener, "Saturday and Sunday", a Jackie McLean composition. If Jackie McLean's alto sax work was always played sharp, then if anything his playing here is sharper than ever, setting off disquieting challenges to the idea of tone centre as he solos against Tony Williams' 'time no changes' backing and suggesting that the destination really will be 'out'. There is a move back closer to centre ground in the solos by Grachan Moncur III and Bobby Hutcherson that follow ahead of a truly mesmerizing drum solo from the young Tony Williams that closes the piece before the final restatement of the opening theme.

"Blue Rondo" is a more straightforward blues with clear, cutting solos from Bobby Hutcherson and Grachan Moncur III before Jackie McLean hones the edge with characteristic precision.

The two Grachan Moncur III compositions add weight to Jackie McLean's contention that he should be more highly regarded as an arranger and composer. Both "Frankenstein" and "Ghost Town" straddle the progression from hard bop to the new musical freedoms in jazz, suggesting atonality in the almost dissonant horn harmonisations, drawing on the shifting time signatures in Tony Williams' inspirational drumming, placing this against Jackie McLean's sharp alto playing. Where "Frankenstein" is more lithe and upbeat, "Ghost Town" is at times openly drawn out and as spooky as the title suggests.

A seminal album. One to enjoy on its own terms.

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Jackie McLean - One Step Beyond (Rudy Van Gelder Edition) [Remastered]

Read our review of Jackie McLean's "Destination Out!"

Complete Jackie McLean discography

Complete Jackie McLean sessionography

Jackie McLean biography

Tony Williams biography

Grachan Moncur III biography

Bobby Hutcherson biography

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