Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on September 8, 1967.
Mastered with 20-bit Super Bit Mapping
Tracks 1-5 originally issued as Blue Note BST 84284.
Track 6 previously unissued.
'Bout Soul does not mean the same thing as soul-jazz, as the opening track "Soul" makes abundantly clear. Written by Grachan Moncur III and poet Barbara Simmons, "Soul" is a tonally free tone-poem that features Simmons' spoken recital. It's about what the concept of soul is, not what soul music is, and that should not come as a surprise to anyone acquainted with Jackie McLean's work. Even as his Blue Note contemporaries were working commercial soul-jazz grooves, McLean pushed the borders of jazz, embracing the avant-garde and free jazz. 'Bout Soul is one of his most explicit free albums, finding the alto saxophonist pushing a quintet - trumpeter Woody Shaw (who sits out "Dear Nick, Dear John"), pianist Lamont Johnson, bassist Scotty Holt, drummer Rashied Ali - into uncompromising, tonally free territory. This is intensely cerebral music that is nevertheless played with a fiery passion. Although the music was all composed, it is played as if it was invented on the spot. Fans of McLean's straight-ahead hard bop, or even of his adventurous mid-'60s sessions, might find this a little off-putting at first, but 'Bout Soul rewards close listening. It is one of McLean's best avant sessions.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
There is an extraordinary integrity at the core of Jackie McLean's music. He is as serious a musician as I've known-serious in his commitment to growth and exploration. "It would be my finish," Jackie said as we were talking about this album, "to be stuck in any one bag. I keep searching." These performances are further evidence of that search and they result in one of the most probing and exultant albums Jackie has made.
Barbara Simmons who is heard and felt in her poem, Soul (with music by Grachan Moncur), describes the atmosphere of the recording session: "It was like physical love. You could feel that closeness in the room. Here I was, a neophyte at recording, and when I walked into the studio, they gave me- not so much in words but in emotion-such a strong sense of camaraderie. What I heard from them was: 'We're with you, baby. Be beautiful. Don't be afraid. Be soul.' The chemistry was just right."
A poet, Barbara Simmons has been reading all over Harlem-in schools, libraries, and many other places-for the past four years. Her work also appears in Black Fire (Morrow), an anthology of Afro-American writing edited by LeRoi Jones and Larry neal. But it is in sound that she wants her poetry to be experienced. "Always," she told me, "I've wanted my poetry on tape. I wanted it heard, not read. That way I become the poem."
Shortly before this album was made, she was listening to Jackie McLean at Slug's in New York's East Village. After the set, she came up to Jackie and said, "You're so beautiful, I want to give you a poem." She recited Soul for him, and he invited her to record it with him. "My writing," she underlines, "is inspired by jazz. And this particular poem came about when an actor friend of mine said to me. 'Why don't you write something about soul?' I started to do that, and this is what happened. It was like an emotional release; it was feeling more than thought. Writing the poem was like music."
Of this track and of the album as a whole, Jackie McLean feels "it's one of the most exciting sets I've ever done. Most of it is full improvisation, instantaneous, which is the kind of playing I've been most into lately. It worked out so well because I know these musicians so well, and we were all able to be free with ourselves and each other."
I asked Jackie's assessment of his colleagues on the date. Lamont Johnson, who comes from the Washington heights neighborhood of New York in which Jackie also grew up, has worked with Roland Kirk as well as with Jackie. "I'll tell you what there is about Lamont that I appreciate so much," Jackie said. "For years my favorite accompanist in jazz has been Bobby Hutcherson because it seems that every time we play, nothing like that moment will ever happen again. With other musicians, I've had the experience that they accompany me in certain ways and then repeat those ways so that I in turn am made to think of the same patterns I've used before with them. But working with Bobby is always a brand new thing. I'd been looking for a piano player who felt like that, and Lamont was the one."
As for Scotty Holt, originally from Chicago, Jackie says: "He's been with me for the past three years, another musician I kind of discovered. I enjoy working with him because he's so flexible. He can play inside, and then, when I just want to shoot from the hip without any previous rehearsal, he's ready for that too."
Rashied Ali, who became particularly known for his work with John Coltrane is, Jackie notes, "especially interested in immediate improvisation and that's why he was perfect for this date. He can let himself go and be continually inventive."
Woody Shaw, an alumnus of the Horace Silver combo, has been associated with Jackie for several years. "He is," Jackie emphasizes, "something special. He's not just another trumpet player out there. Woody is a fine, sensitive musician with beautiful sound and range along with a very open conception. He's also an open listener. If a musician listens to jazz and nothing else, I find it hard to hook up with him. But Woody listens to a lot of contemporary classical music and other things so that he's very flexible, very resourceful. Woody and I both feel that the beauty of music covers such a lot of ground that if you limit yourself, if you label yourself, you're putting a damper on yourself."
Of Grachan Moncur III, Jackie observes that "he's a very serious musician, always probing. It's like if Monk was a tribal leader, Grachan would be his medicine man. One of the things about him is that he often comes up with fantastic things that are right there in front of you, things you see every day but step over. What I mean is he can come up with a very simple line and then develop it into a very strong, personal statement."
As for the songs, "Soul" speaks evocatively for itself. Jackie's "Conversion Point" is meant by him as "a point of initiation, a launching pad for this kind of immediate improvisation." Lamont Johnson's "Big Ben's Voice" has its basing point in the venerable London clock, Big Ben, but Lamont and his associates transmute those sounds into intensely immediate, drivingly contemporary experience. Scotty Holt's "Dear Nick," "Dear John" began as a lyrical memorial to the late Nicky Hill, a Chicago alto player who had influenced Scotty when he was quite young. When John Coltrane died, Scotty extended the title and the sense of loss. "Erdu" is additional proof of the writing skills of Lamont Johnson. "He's written," Jackie says, "a whole batch of beautiful things, including ballads. He's very much interested in electronics, in the recording end of music; but if he also stays with the playing and writing of it, he has a great deal to contribute."
The music throughout the album requires no programmatic guide, it is so emotionally direct, so deeply felt, so collectively discovered in the process of its creation that all you need do is open yourself to it. And the music also proves once more how constantly evolving Jackie himself is-how eager for challenge, how aware of the limitlessness of possibility in music. As Barbara Simmons says of Jackie, "he steps right into life."
-Nat Hentoff (original liner notes)