Rudy Van Gelder was a renowned sound engineer who for a while in the 1950’s and 1960’s seemed to be a part of almost every jazz recording of any importance. Working for Blue Note, Prestige and others during that era, he produced recordings that were as perfect, crisp and sharp as could be made, given the equipment at that time.
In 1999, Blue Note gave him the chance to re-master many of his original recordings for modern digital equipment, and the final result of that process is available for serious jazz fans, if you have $1739, which is the price for the 171 CD set on Amazon. For those of us with more restrictive budgets, there is an alternative. Prestige Records (now part of Concord) began last year to issue a series of individual jazz albums re-mastered by Van Gelder. The intention is to continue adding to the series periodically, and judging from the quality of both the music and the sound, let’s hope they do.
In this review, we’re going to focus on an individual album called 4, 5 and 6, featuring alto saxman Jackie McLean and his group. McLean was very active in the jazz world during the bebop and post-bop period, although he’s not as well known today as some of the others from the era. He had a distinctive style that was intense, bold and occasionally a little reedy, and on this album (originally recorded in 1956) he was a young man in full instrumental voice.
There’s little doubt that he was the leader of the group and is the main soloist on every tune, but there is room for some quality work by his sidemen, including Donald Byrd on trumpet, pianist Mal Waldron, drummer Art Taylor and bassist Doug Watkins. The group is also occasionally joined by Hank Mobley on tenor sax, most notably on the group’s interpretation of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”, which also features strong work by Byrd.
The album is a good mix of modern bebop and traditional ballads played with a bop edge, including familiar tunes such as “When I Fall In Love” and “Sentimental Journey”, both of which start straight-ahead but soon give way to some inspired improvisations. If your idea of the latter tune is that version made famous by Les Brown and Doris Day, then you’re in for a treat. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Les or Doris.) I also enjoyed “Abstraction”, a ballad written by pianist Waldron that really showcases McLean’s softer sound.
Actually, I liked every cut on the album, and have no hesitation in giving it a strong recommendation, even if you’re not particularly a fan of bebop (which I’m not) because this is good stuff. Get it — you won’t be sorry.
1. Sentimental Journey 9:59
2. Why Was I Born? 5:16
3. Contour 5:02
4. Confirmation 11:25
5. When I Fall In Love 5:35
6. Abstraction 8:02