Jackie McLean: Lifeline


Lifeline (medley): Offspring/Midway/Vernzone/The Inevitable End


Jackie McLean (alto sax)


New and Old Gospel (Blue Note BST 84262)

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Jackie McLean (alto sax), Ornette Coleman (trumpet), Billy Higgins (drums),

Lamont Johnson (piano), Scott Holt (bass)


Composed by Jackie McLean


Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, March 24, 1967


Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Jackie McLean was a man in search of himself when he came under the influence of Ornette Coleman, so it's no surprise that Ornette joined him on New And Old Gospel. In the 1950s, McLean was a good if not great Charlie Parker-inspired alto saxophonist. In the '60s, he came into his own by making such leftward-leaning music as this.

"Lifeline" is actually four tunes in one: a medley, each song flowing seamlessly into the next. Ornette plays trumpet exclusively here, and he's even more harmonically unhinged than usual, seldom acknowledging even obliquely the tonal centers implied by the rhythm section. He experiments with varying timbre and attack, while engaging McLean closely in the collectively improvised passages. On the up-tempo opening, Ornette plays against the pulse. His textural scrawl is in stark contrast to the burning eighth-note swing feel. Ornette's trumpet style is different, and despite the occasional misstep, it works, largely because McLean puts ego aside and mediates the divergence between the rhythm section's more conventional modal-jazz style and Coleman's utterly free approach. McLean conscientiously plays phrases that help connect Coleman's lines to the whole. His solos lack boppish ornamentation, but are cliché-free, thematically derived inventions delivered with searing intensity. The rhythm section does a good job with the looser structures, especially drummer Billy Higgins, who after all had ample experience playing with Ornette. Pianist Lamont Johnson shines as well, displaying a lovely touch in the rubato sections and a strong reactive sense at quick tempos.

Although he has far greater facility on his instrument than Ornette has on his, McLean largely defers to his guest. His willingness to submit to Ornette's unorthodox strengths results in some fascinating music.

Reviewer: Chris Kelsey

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