Jackie McLean • Destination...Out!

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-84183
45rpm double-record set
1963/2011

Music

Sound

Sam Rivers • Fuchsia Swing Song

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-84221
45rpm double-record set
1964/2011

Music

Sound

by Marc Mickelson | February 11, 2011

ne of the reasons Blue Note has attained legendary status among jazz labels is the wide aesthetic of its recordings. Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, the label's principals, fostered artistic seriousness and artistic freedom equally, and this led to jazz that regularly shifted boundaries and spanned seemingly every inclination, sometimes through the work of a single particularly ambitious musician. Such was the case with Destination...Out! and Fuchsia Swing Song, two of Blue Note's most challenging titles.

Saxophonist and composer Sam Rivers released three Blue Note albums in the mid-1960s before moving to Impulse! Fuchsia Swing Song, the first of them, collects six Rivers originals, each of which pushes at the traditions of the day. Rivers plays in a quartet that includes pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams -- a tight, sympathetic ensemble whose deeply cerebral interplay provides the perfect launching pad for Rivers' oblique soloing. This is a harder variety of bop -- a bluesy base with avant-garde seasoning. Towering just as its title suggests, "Luminous Monolith," the album's centerpiece, has Rivers and Byard playing off each other as they teeter between melody and pensive solo runs. So often great jazz is about the musicians' journey -- the route they take to reach wherever they're going. Not Fuchsia Swing Song, which exists firmly in the moment, sounding as fresh today as it did in the mid-1960s.

The same can also be said for Destination...Out!, one of ten Blue Note releases from saxophonist Jackie McLean in the early 1960s and arguably the most distinctive. Its title reveals its aims: reaching new places beyond the confines of the hard bop that dominated Blue Note's output during the previous half-decade. McLean had been moving toward this with earlier releases, whose titles -- A Fickle Sonance, Let Freedom Ring, One Step Beyond -- were no less provocative, but here, with Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Roy Haynes on drums, and the underappreciated Grachan Moncur III on trombone, aspiration became reality. The four expansive numbers -- three by Moncur and one by McLean -- are built on varied and sometimes jagged rhythms, measured soloing, and a dominating sense of momentum. Destination...Out! is an interesting companion to Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch released five months later. McLean's "Kahlil the Prophet" would be at home on Dolphy's masterpiece.

The Music Matters sound has come to define Blue Note recordings in the new millennium. It's more contemporary, more high-res, than that of original LPs and especially the RVG-series CDs. Dynamics are freewheeling, and the bottom end is extended and enhanced. The stereo soundstage unfolds with great lateral spread, and everything pops out of the noise floor due to the very quiet pressings. The gatefold sleeves continue to set the standard for heft and pizzazz.

With Fuchsia Swing Song and Destination...Out!, Joe Harley and Ron Rambach of Music Matters once again demonstrate impeccable taste and informed guidance regarding the titles they choose to reissue. The Blue Note catalog has a number of musical experiments that don't completely pan out, but these two albums are not among them. The music is vital and the presentation definitive.

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