Jackie McLean was a hard-bop alto saxophonist with a fiery tight tone, who recorded extensively in the ‘50s and ‘60s mainly with Blue Note Records. Although his forays with an organ was confined to two albums with Jimmy Smith Open House and Plain Talk, Cory Weeds’ decision to use an organ on this session does not stray off the mark. Condition Blue accomplishes the band’s intention, to acknowledge a saxophonist who had an exploratory vision. In a set list of either McLean originals, or compositions associated with him, this tight-knit band delivers the goods in firm, yet flexible style. The key players in this session in addition, to the cooly effective altoist Weeds, are Mike LeDonne, a B-3 player of energetic disposition, and creative guitarist Peter Bernstein. Also along is drummer Joe Farnsworth who is a propulsive player.
New Soil wasn't the first session Jackie McLean recorded for Blue Note, but it was the first one released, and as the title suggests, the first glimmerings of McLean's desire to push beyond the limits of bop are already apparent. They're subtle, of course, and nowhere near as pronounced as they would be in just a few years' time, but – as with the 1959 material later issued on Jackie's Bag – hints of Ornette Coleman's stream-of-consciousness melodic freedom are beginning to find their way into McLean's improvisations. His playing is just a touch more angular than the ear expects, especially given the very bluesy nature of pieces like McLean's 11-minute vamp "Hip Strut," and pianist Walter Davis, Jr.'s infectious boogie-woogie "Greasy." Coleman's influence is most apparent on McLean's "Minor Apprehension," where the freewheeling, Coleman-esque main theme is paralleled by trumpeter Donald Byrd in a definite nod to Don Cherry. What's more, drummer Pete LaRoca takes a surprisingly free solo of significant length toward the end of the track.
The last of the Jackie McLean Prestige sessions, this LP has material from two different sets, but fortunately, the music is on a higher level than one might expect of "leftovers." "Strange Blues" is from a marathon quartet set that McLean had with pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Arthur Phipps, and drummer Art Taylor, as is a rendition of "What's New" that is an alternate version to the one included on Makin' the Changes. In addition, "Disciples Love Affair" and "Millie's Pad" match McLean with the tuba of Ray Draper (who contributed both songs), trumpeter Webster Young, pianist John Meyers, bassist Bill Salter, and drummer Larry Ritchie, while the incomplete "Not So Strange Blues" is all McLean on an explosive blues with the rhythm section. A generally strong set chiefly recommended to Jackie McLean completists.
This is one of the great Jackie McLean albums. After nearly a decade away from recording, the veteran altoist teamed up with his son, René McLean (who triples on tenor, soprano, and flute), pianist Hotep Idris Galeta, bassist Nat Reeves, and drummer Carl Allen for a very passionate and high-powered live set. Whether it be originals by René (including "J. Mac's Dynasty") or Galeta, a very intense version of "A House Is Not a Home," or Jackie's "Bird Lives," this is dynamic and consistently exciting music. The go-for-broke solos (which transcend any easy categories) and Jackie's unique sharp tone make this an essential CD, one of the top recordings to be released in 1990.