CD Review of 4, 5, and 6 by Jackie McLean

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4, 5, and 6
starstarstarno starno star Label: Prestige
Released: 2007
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His drug problems led to the loss of his cabaret license, keeping him from performing live gigs, so the late, great Jackie McLean recorded a prodigious amount of material to survive. The drug situation, in the 1960s, led to jail time for McLean, which likely colored the hard-sounding, free-jazz albums he recorded after his release. That's the downside; the upside, for McLean, was that he gained his jazz education under the tutelage of Bud Powell and Miles Davis in his teen years, and soaked up all they could teach him. While his personal life might have been a constant shambles, his artistry rarely was questioned.

Which brings us to 4, 5, and 6, a very nice 1956 hard-bop platter featuring standards such as "Sentimental Journey," "Why Was I Born," and Bird's "Confirmation." The band features the impeccable McLean, Hank Mobley on tenor sax, and trumpeter Donald Byrd, as well as a veteran rhythm section. The best part of the record, at least for the jazz-fan dollar, is the group's upbeat reinterpretation of stale old ballads, which – as historian and liner-notes author Ira Gitler points out – works to great effect in "When I Fall in Love," along with the aforementioned "Born."

While there's little here that broke new jazz ground – this was just McLean's second album as a session leader, and the other players were still getting their feet wet – the raison d'etre for this re-release is original recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder's 24-bit digital remastering from the original tapes. The band's in the pocket and the sound's pretty crisp, although other Van Gelder upgrades from the period do sound better.

While the record's not a Kind of Blue or Giant Steps in terms of innovation, it definitely showcases three jazz all-stars in their prime, and it's worth the reissue treatment. The recordings, rescued from their vinyl graves, are worth a listen if '50s jazz is your bag.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD