Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on March 1, 1963.
The classic Blue Note albums which span the mid 1950's to late 1960's were recorded directly on to two track analog tape. No multitrack recording was used and consequently no mixing was required. Therefore, this CD was made by transferring the one step analog master to digital.
In 1963, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean was well aware of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. He assembled a band with vibist Bobby Hutcherson, who had already played with Eric Dolphy, drummer Tony Williams, bassist Eddie Khan, and trombonist/composer Grachan Moncur III. While still adhering to the hard bop principle, One Step Beyond's title is literal. The introduction of space as an element in the twin-horn front line is consistent with what would come later that year on Destination Out! McLean is clearly hearing the Eastern modalism and intervallic invention in Coltrane's sound at this point, but still moves in his own direction, sticking very close to the blues and the hard, even relentless, swing provided by Williams on the kit. The CD version of the album contains two takes of McLean's "Saturday and Sunday," which make use of the insistent blues line and Williams' driving and dancing drumming style. But the true visionary compositions here are Moncur's "Frankenstein" and "Ghost Town." Their unconventional solo horn melodic statements followed by two horn choruses and their irrepressible urge to use Hutcherson's vibes as a contrapuntal element, while spreading out his chords so wide that he comes off as a pair of pianos playing complementary harmonic strategies, are revolutionary. Add to this Moncur's insistence on soloing inside the changes as McLean moves through the register and becomes increasingly dissonant, and you have a true doppelganger effect - but one that swings like mad. One Step Beyond may have been the first volley McLean fired in the direction of the new jazz, and played it safe enough to ride out the hard bop he helped to create, but he cannot be faulted as a bandleader, as this music still sounds fresh, vital, and full of grainy mystery.
All Music Guide
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One step beyond is the direction by which creative man has been moving since time began.
Speaking for myself as a jazz musician, part of my satisfaction, musically, has been avoiding musical ruts and searching for fresh material to work with.
When The Connection closed after a four year run, I began getting calls for jobs and concerts around New York. I used a wide range of musicians when I had a club date or concert. It had been a long time, 1958 to be exact, since 1 had a band that I worked with steadily. There are so many great musicians around New York and getting just the right ones together to form a band presents quite a problem, especially if you want to acquire a different sound.
In December 1962 I left New York for Boston to do a week at Connelly's. It was the week before Christmas, to be exact. Again it was a local rhythm section and again it was the rush to get in town early the first day to rehearse the section and get some originals set up. It was already dark when I arrived at the club.
When I hit the door, a young man gave me a hand with my bags. I thanked him and sat down to catc... ....er a few minutes, the young man returned and informed me that the musicians were .... band stand and waiting. Looking at this youngster again and thanking him once more, I assumed that he was a young jazz enthusiast waiting to listen to a band rehearsal before going home to his studies. At this point I stood up, and having no idea with whom I was going to play, I turned and asked the kid if he knew who the musicians were. He immediately answered "yes" with a certain look of excitement in his eyes. "Who's on bass?" I asked. "John Nevs " was the reply. "And on piano?" "Ray Santizi."
"What about the drums?" I inquired. "ME!-Tony Williams-and I am very happy to meet you, Jackie." "You?" I said with amazement and some doubt seasoned with a little worry all mixed together. "Damn -you'll have to excuse me, Tony, but you look so young! How old are you?" "Seventeen," he answered with a big, happy grin that I was to get to know very well in the weeks and months that followed. We had a lot of musical fun that week. The whole rhythm section was good. John Nevs and Tony had played together quite a bit, and in Tony I heard and felt a fresh inspiration that made me want to play.
One night, between sets, Tony told me that he would love to come to New York and work with me. At the time The Connection was still running, and I was Musical Director. So with Mrs. Williams' (Tony's Mom) consent and blessings, I brought him to my house on Christmas Eve. I couldn't think of anything more that I would want for Christmas. We worked The Connection until it closed. These weeks were sparked with some concerts. I began to look around for the rest of the musicians I would need to form a band.
Grachan Moncur has been a good friend of mine for many years. We had played together on different occasions many times since 1957 when I first met him. Early in 1962 we practiced together at my house; and I could really see that Grachan was a talented composer as well as a musician. Apparently, I was not the only one with these opinions. Art Farmer and Benny Golson took Grachan into the Jazztet for a long and fruitful stint. After the Jazztet, Grachan worked with the Ray Charles Band. He had just left Ray when I ran into him and told him I had some jobs pending. So without wasting any time or words, we began practicing and writing and exchanging ideas between the three of us. We discussed the type of bass and piano player we wanted to use. I would like to note that Tony came to all our practice sessions equipped with ideas and a few pieces from his drum set. Grachan spoke of a vibe player he had heard, and also, Eddie Khan's name came up around the same time. We had practiced with a few bassists, but things didn't lay right. Time was closing in on us, we had two weeks coming up at the Coronet in Brooklyn, and we only had five more days to rehearse. I called up Bobby Hutcherson, the vibest. At this time Bobby was working with Al Grey and Billy Mitchell. He was off for a few weeks so he came to a rehearsal. At the same time I called Eddie Khan, who was working with Max Roach. He told me he would be glad to practice with us. The rehearsals were successful. All the material that Grachan had written fitted beautifully. The vibes were also beautiful, and Bobby's technique and imagination added just what was needed for the sound we wanted. Eddie Khan is an ex-saxophonist who played the tenor professionally on the West Coast for many years before he decided to change from tenor sax to bass. This is not an easy thing to do, and listening to Khan, one would never suspect that he has only been playing a few years. His sound is tremendous and accompanied with a good conception, a good beat and surprising technique for the short time he has been playing the bass. With this group finally established, we started doing concerts and club dates, and of course, this added the finishing touch. Audience acceptance is an important ingredient to a group's confidence. All of the compositions which are recorded in this album are originals. These arrangements were first used when we opened at the Coronet. I would like to first describe Grachan Moncur's two contributions to this album as a composer.
Frankenstein, a waltz, which was originally called Freedom Waltz, is 32 bars in length, the chords moving from A-flat minor to A minor (one bar each) for five bars and A minor for three. The bridge D-flat minor for two bars, B minor for two. This is repeated and followed by four bars of A-minor. I think this composition by Grachan is one of the most beautiful jazz waltzes ever written. Its beauty stands for everything that Frankenstein does not. The alto has the first solo followed by Grachan's well constructed and aptly original solo. His conception of the trombone is highly complementary to J. J. Johnson who was one of his influences and yet, as you listen, you can't help but hear a young man searching for himself. "For self is a sea, boundless and measureless." (Kahili Gibrand.) Grachan's solo is followed by Bobby Hutcherson's vibes. Again I ask you to listen to another young man searching for what he hears and feels, and it is only natural for Bobby to use Milt Jackson as a guide. I did-and so did a lot of musicians. To hear Bags is to love his playing. You can hear Bobby's own expression and conception emerging fat on all of these sides. Throughout the recording also notice the way Khan and Tony handle the three quarter time. It flows from beginning to end. There are no graves here, Mr. Frankenstein.
Grachan's second contribution is another musical painting very aptly entitled Ghost Town. The melody itself is a portrait of a Ghost Town. Eddie Khan sets the pace for you to walk with the band right down this long and dismal street. Doors knock, things scrape as Tony falls in step with Khan. Bobby chimes up chromatically, enticing Grachan to come in, and last but not least, I moan in and fall in step as the melody finally builds to a screaming finale. The structure of the composition is built on a A-flat major mode leaving the soloist a wide range to search in. The solos follow this order: alto, trombone, vibes. On Grachan's solo one can hear the many possibilities and the freedom of musical expression a mode offers. Bobby's solo is relaxed, open and very imaginative, again stressing the freedom of the mode. After much loud talking among the horns, we find ourselves not far from the end of this town. Everyone gets quiet as Khan sets the pace for us to leave Ghost Town.
The next two compositions are originals by myself. The first is called Saturday And Sunday. This composition consists of 32 bars for the solos; the form is again modal. E-flat minor for 16 bars in the first section. Then moving to D-flat minor for one and D minor for seven, and finally repeating E-flat minor for eight. The melody sections are in two segments, first the "Saturday" section which is bright and moving in contrast to the "Sunday" section, which is directed as opposed to being felt or counted. Sundays were always too long and too eerie when I was a kid growing up. Two hours of Sunday School followed by three hours of Church afterward. After four hours, everyone in church began to look like Frankensteins with wigs and dresses. Finally, after the Sunday section, we revert back to Saturday and get off into the solos with a happy bright feeling. The solos are by alto, trombone, vibes, and drums with bass accompaniment in spots. Tony's percussion solo illustrates the looseness by which he regards the instrument, each drum and cymbal is used individually in parts to get the many sounds a set of percussion instruments can offer. He is not tied down to little frames of overused drumlicks or riffs. His expression is intricate, interesting and original. Tony has many influences, Art Blakey, Klook, Max, Philly Joe, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes to name a few.
He also spends hours listening to African and Indian rhythms. I have sat and listened to Indian rhythms with Tony, and we discussed the many rhythmic possibilities between horn and drums. It should also be noticed the way Khan surrounds and injects some provocative accompaniment to Tony's solo on this track. The vibes and bass accompaniment to the percussion solo is always spontaneous. After Tony's solo we take it out.
Blue Rondo is the second offering by myself. A blues in B-flat. This tune came about spontaneously one day while Grachan and I were practicing. We were fooling around with separate lines when the idea came to me, and Blue Rondo is the result. The first solo is by Bobby as he dances through several happy blues choruses. He's followed by Grachan. This is a well constructed close to key trombone solo. There are those who might think Mr. Moncur cannot play right down the line without venturing out and searching off key. Check this out. Please. The alto follows the trombone and Eddie Khan walks through his chorus before we take it on out.
I am looking forward to my next date with this band. Playing with Grachan, Khan, Bobby and Tony is a real pleasure. I said earlier that staying away from a rut any finding newer and freer material is part of my inspiration to play and write. I'd like to close my notes with another quote from Kahili Gibrand: Our ears thirst for the sound-of-our-hearts knowledge.