Jackie McLean-It’s Time!

Label: Blue Note Records-Tone Poet Series.

Format: LP.

When Jackie McLean and his band journeyed to Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, on August the ‘5th’ 1964, it was his fourteenth solo session for Blue Note Records and resulted in the album It’s Time! It which was recently reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their Tone Poet Series featured a new band and saw him revisit his old hard bop sound.

For the It’s Time! session, Jackie McLean had put together a new band. It still featured drummer Roy Haynes who at thirty-nine was the elder statesman of the band. The rest of the band were newcomers. This included thirty year old bassist Cecil McBee, pianist Herbie Hancock who was twenty-five and twenty-two year old trumpeter Charles Tolliver. They were due to record six new compositions that became It’s Time!

This included Das’ Dat, It’s Time and Snuff which were Jackie McLean compositions. They were joined by Cancellation, Revillot and Truth which were written by Charles Tolliver. The It’s Time session was engineered by Rudy Van Gelder and was produced by Alfred Lion and on August the ‘5th’ 1964.

The producer and engineer listened to what was a quite different album from Destination…Out!, which was regarded as one of the most innovative, progressive and experimental albums that Jackie McLean had recorded. He embraced the avant-garde on an album which was a fusion of post-bop and free jazz. It was thought that the followup would see him embrace free jazz fully. Instead It’s Time was an album of driving, swinging hard bop from his new band.

It’s Time! opened with Cancellation which is best described as an advanced example of driving hard bop. Horns add a fanfare while the rhythm section provide stop time rhythms and Herbie Hancock pounds his piano. Meanwhile, the almost abrasive sound of Jackie McLean’s alto-saxophone soars, wah wahs as his playing becomes fast and fluid. Charles Tolliver’s playing starts with the same fluidity but later heads in the direction of free jazz. It’s accompanied by a piano which veers between abstract, ruminative to dramatic, fluid and urgent as it’s played with speed and accuracy. Later, the band join forces and head for home never missing a beat during this breathtaking example of hard driving, angular and swinging hard bop.

Das’ Dat bursts into life and the quintet  play as one on what’s a more traditional example of hard bop. Its bluesy roots can be quite clearly heard as Jackie McLean revisits his part. The horns and piano that play leading rolls as the rhythm section ensure the track swings. When the solos come around, up first is a sultry swinging solo from the composer and bandleader. Next up is trumpeter Charles Tolliver who plays like a veteran. So does pianist Herbie Hancock whose fingers dance across the keyboards as the rhythm section provide a subtle backdrop. Then when the band reunite and head for home combining to create what can only be described as swinging, high kicking and hard bop par excellence.

It’s Time is another of the more progressive tracks on the album and the influxes of modal jazz can be heard. The quintet play at breakneck speed before it’s time for the solos and effortlessly Jackie McLean plays with speed and fluidity. Next up, is Charles Tolliver whose solo is inventive and imaginative before he builds up a head of steam and plays with speed accuracy All the time, the piano punctuates the arrangement and then Herbie Hancock delivers a fleet-fingered solo his fingers caress, jab, stab and dance across before he accompanies Cecil McBee’s bass. When  drummer Roy Haynes unleashes a solo his playing is subtle as he takes a polyrhythmic approach and plays an important part in the sound and success of what’s one of the album’s highlights.

Side Two.

Horns unite, blaze and soar on Revillot before uniting with the rest of the band playing with speed and an inventiveness. From the get-go the horns go head-to head and it’s akin to a musical duel with two master craftsman showcasing their considerable skills. They deliver spellbinding solos and everyone else plays a supporting role. Even Herbie Hancock whose play with speed, jabbing, stabbing and adding flamboyant flourishes before his playing becomes fluid and sometimes abstract. Despite that, it’s the horns that steal the show.

On Snuff the horns lead the way as drums punctuate the arrangement. Soon, it’s time for the solos and Jackie McLean steps up and plays his alto-saxophone with speed, fluidity and an inventiveness during a complex solo where it bobs, weaves and winds. Herbie Hancock accompanies him and plays a supporting role. He rises to the challenge and goes toe-to-toe with the bandleader answering the saxophonist’s call and does the same with trumpeter Charles Tolliver who unleashes one of his finest performances during a complex solo takes twists and turns. Herbie Hancock is inspired and raises his game adding further flamboyant flourishes and when his solo comes around he plays with speed, accuracy and inventiveness during a breathtaking performance. All too soon, the band reunite and it’s a race to the finishing post. It’s not hands and heels going into the final furlong. Instead, it’s a sprint finish and after a performance as good as this there’s only one winner…jazz.

Closing It’s Time! is the melancholy ballad Truth which was written by Charles Tolliver. Sometimes, the truth hurts and that seems to be the case here. His trumpet playing it emotive and has a worldweary soul-baring sound. Meanwhile, the rest of the band provides a sympathetic backdrop on this beautiful ballad that shows another side to the quintet.

Having recorded It’s Time! Blue Note Records scheduled a release for the summer of 1965. In late-June, early July It’s Time! was released in a Miles Reed album cover that would later be regarded as a design classic. The album was well received by the majority of critics who had expected Jackie McLean to fully embrace free jazz on It’s Time! They were surprised to hear an album of hard bop but welcomed its familiarity of  It’s Time. Sadly, the album passed jazz fans by, and they never heard Jackie McLean’s new quintet in full flight.

It was only much later that jazz fans discovered Jackie McLean’s It’s Time! By then, it was one of the hidden gems in his back-catalogue and one the most underrated albums that he recorded at Blue Note Records. It’s Time! is an album of hard driving and swinging hard bop from Jackie McLean that features a series of breathtaking performances and is bristling with energy that somewhat belatedly is starting to receive the recognition it so richly deserves.

Jackie McLean-It’s Time!


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