Jazz has since endured 50 years of growing pains and hard fought success but by the end of the sixties, it seemed old hat and circumspect. Hard Bop and West Coast had all but been exhausted, funk-inflected buggaloo and Latin-tinged jazz hammered the airwaves and the new kids were hip to the Beatles and Rock and Roll. Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson and Grachan Moncur III helped to define a sound during this period of jazz by releasing a series of albums: One Step Beyond, Destination Out and Evolution, to name a few, that were challenging, intuitive and milestones in the continual development of jazz. Namely, it helped to keep jazz alive and fresh. Tonight, these three fellas retread these terrains and put on a hell of a show.
The line up at the Iridium are Jackie McLean on alto, Rene McLean on tenor, soprano and flute, Grachan Moncur III on trombone, Bobby Hutcherson on vibraharp and a strong and steady rhythm section anchored by Alan Jay Palmer on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. This is the third night in a six-day engagement at the Iridium.
Not surprisingly, the Iridium is packed solid, the knowledgeable crowd is draped in anticipation and the expectations run high. Jackie and band begin promptly. Mr. E
, a composition written for McPherson, catapults the evening. Foraging headfirst, Jackie comes in sharp and confident his wonderful acidic tone intact in a stirring extended solo proclaiming the Mac
is back. Hutcherson comes next by masterminding a solo that is polished and impeccable with beautiful phrasing and carefully placed pauses and accents. McPherson follows a two-horn restatement of the theme and leads out with a powerful drum solo.
Fashionably late, Moncur joins in on the brooding, Love and Hate
. He opens up the theme on trombone, Hutcherson sets the mood on vibes with a poised and heart felt solo weaving his tapestries in a sound that is sonorous and enveloping. Jackie dips in with spare strokes and climbs into his signature upper register bittersweet calls. Rene on the criminally underutilized flute caresses with free floating strokes while Palmer follows with a skillfully crafted piano solo his right hand touch reminiscent of Herbie Hancock. Reeves provides sensitive bass accompaniment and McPherson utilizes soft brushes on snare. Rene returns on flute and restates the theme before closing out to an absorbed audience.
Recharging ahead, the challenging, Frankenstein
is taken at a more brisk tempo. Moncur steps forward more aggressively and confidently, his trombone solos come in dips and swaths replete with guttural growls in what is easily his best solo. Jackie comes next with a highly charged run followed by Rene on soprano, who, at times, comes close to his father’s strident riffing. Hutcherson goes next by attacking the vibes with a rollicking onslaught of single-note runs and whole-note punctuations which are a perfect foil and counterpoint to his band mates. Palmer, not to be outdone, treats the piano like a percussive instrument. He is draped in sweat his feet pounding the base boards while his hands attack with percussive chords and right-hand glides. Reeves and McPherson work on high-octane with sizzle and snap at this kinetic pace bringing the crowd to a frenzy and applause with a stop-on-a-dime finish and the ending the first set.
Well rested, the sextet returns with Entrapment
, a composition coming from Jackie’s recent Blue Note date, Fire and Love. All solo with zeal, particularly Palmer who launches into his solo with an unrepentant two-fisted attack on the keys showing he can play with the best of ‘em.
The uplifting, Dance Little Mandisa
soothes the crowd as Rene performs his magic gliding and glistening on the flute to an enraptured audience before launching into more familiar territory, Freddie Free Loader
. Like comfort food, Moncur takes hold of this classic by laying a swath of blues phrases that’s as easy on the ears like maple syrup on a stack. Hutcherson and Palmer come next with equally tasty solos showing their in-the-pocket grooves.
Jackie and Rene having stepped aside for the last number, return with a rousing, Blue Rondo
. Jackie comes in with a formidable attack on alto hitting full stride in an uninterrupted flow of ideas that, not unapologetically, stakes his territory. Moncur comes with a short but sweet solo and Hutcherson, who has been perfect throughout, executes a spirited solo that creates suspense and helps to bring this set and evening to it’s perfect end.
In a night’s work that lasted just two hours, the material was presented without a hint of wrinkles, sagging or sentimentality. Jackie and his cohorts show us that jazz is timeless, priceless and precious.