The Essence All Stars: Jackie's Blues Bag
Known for his unique tone and hard bop character, Jackie McLean, like Charlie Parker before him, incorporated the blues into his music. Using different ensemble lineups for each tune, saxophonists Justin Robinson, Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Craig Handy, Joe Lovano, Vincent Herring, Javon Jackson and Abraham Burton team with a rhythm section of pianist LaMont Johnson, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Idris Muhammad, to offer up this tribute to the McLean the master.
The session opens with LaMont Johnson's Gospel introduction to "Bluesnik." Johnson, who worked and recorded with McLean from 1964 to 1968, appeared on McLean's 1967 recording New And Old Gospel. Here, he uses heavy bottom chords and full harmonies in the Gospel idiom to open and close the piece. Later, Johnson performs his own composition, "Dr. Mac Jackie," as a solo rendering. But it's the saxophone players who emulate McLean in different ways and provide the familiar hard bop sound.
Marsalis shows good blues form and feeling on "Bluesnik," and his soprano feature on the up-tempo "Dr. Jackle" swings hard. Lovano brings in an 'outside' approach as a duo with drummer Idris Muhammad by incorporating well-known melodies with less familiar ideas into "Blues Inn." In what may be the highlight of the session, altoist Vincent Herring pushes the envelope on "Midtown Blues" with able support from the others.
In the liner notes, Herring writes, "Jackie has the ability to reach the intellectual, sophisticated listener and the down home crowd." This collaborative effort makes a fine tribute to a living legend, and the saxophonists manage to emulate Jackie McLean well. It's just too bad he wasn't included in the session himself.