In 1956 when this album was recorded, Jackie McLean was still enthralled by Bird. He had yet to have his mountainous change that occurred when he heard Ornette Coleman just a few years later.
The title of the CD, 4, 5 and 6, refers to the size of the three groups McLean uses. The quartet is McLean and his rhythm section: Mal Waldron, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; and Art Taylor, drums. The quintet includes trumpeter Donald Byrd, and the sextet adds Hank Mobley on tenor for one cut.
The first tune may be the best. McLean’s rhythm section starts "Sentimental Journey" with a steady, rolling gait that is anything but sentimental. McLean soars over them like the world’s most happy fella. Doug Watkins follows with a fine melodic bass solo, rolling into Mal Waldron’s bluesy turn. McLean takes over, takes it out, and the basic pattern for the album is set.
The next McLean performance, "Why Was I Born?" answers its own title, saying, "to blow hot, hard bop." Mal Waldron follows, showing just how relaxed you can play up-tempo. Drummer Art Taylor cooks all the way through.
Donald Byrd makes his first entrance on the next selection, a Kenny Drew chart, "Contour." After a very nice McLean alto turn, Byrd shows why so many jazz enthusiasts had such high hopes for him, with a melodic, tastefully technical solo. His mellow sound meshes well with more acidic tone of McLean’s sax. Mal Waldron’s solo sounds like he’s trying not to draw attention to himself, but he’s just too melodic to stay out of the spotlight.
"Confirmation" pays tribute to McLean’s mentor, Bird, with Hank Mobley filling out the ensemble. Interestingly, on this Parker tune McLean sounds a little more like Lee Konitz than Parker. Go figure. Mobley plays with his usual swinging, imperturbable assurance.
It fascinates this critic that the Birdman on this album so completely changed his style just a few short years after this performance. It just shows that keeping your ears open can cause wonders. Hail Bird. Hail Ornett. But, for this session, Hail Jackie.