Mr. McLean, I stopped by Car City Records in St. Clair Shores, MI. last week. I bought two outstanding albums you recorded for Blue Note Records, "Let Freedom Ring" and "New and Old Gospel". Do you remember making them? The former you made at Rudy Van Gelder studio in 1962. The latter you recorded in 1967. You wrote the liner notes for "Let Freedom Ring," explaining how your style was becoming more aggressive and your improvising more imaginative. You pointed out that Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker were key influences, but a daring improviser named Ornette Coleman inspired you to reevaluate how you approached the music. Do any of those details jog your memory? If not, I understand. You recorded 21 albums for Blue Note during your heyday.
I've played "Let Freedom Ring" non-stop since buying it. The title threw me. I thought it was a political jazz album given you recorded it during the civil rights era. In your eyes, freedom meant you're open to new ways of improvisation. Ornette Coleman had established new rules, and you followed suit. Mr. McLean, on "Melody for Melonae" and "Omega," two standout tracks, you literally redefined the meaning of a jazz blowing session is. I'm sure the album appealed to people with different taste although it could've marketed as an avant-garde jazz album. "New and Old Gospel" was clearly a free jazz album. It was the first time I heard Ornette Coleman play the trumpet.
In his autobiography, trumpeter Miles Davis criticized Coleman, saying he didn't have the proper formal training on the instrument. To me, Coleman sounded good throughout "New and Old Gospel". Of course, Coleman wasn't in Miles' league, or as savvy as trumpeters of Miles' generation. However, you believed Coleman‘s ability. Maybe Miles was jealous because Coleman was getting more attention at the time. Coleman put new ideas on the table. Miles criticized Eric Dolphy, too. Miles said Dolphy sounded as if somebody was standing on his foot while he played. That was a cheap shot. Miles refused to accept the music was changing, which is interesting because a decade or so later the trumpeter was credited for starting the jazz fusion movement.
"New and Old Gospel" felt like a jam session where like-minded musicians tested new ideas. Mr. McLean, on the suite "Lifeline" you showed you’d changed from a hard-bop wailer to a free-jazz explorer. On Coleman's cooker "Old Gospel," you had the alto sax testifying. Mr. McLean, listening to "Let Freedom Ring" and "New and Old Gospel was a welcomed relief from the kind of basic jazz albums I've been exposed to lately. I'm a jazz journalist and jazz blogger. As such, record companies send me new release regularly. Some are worthwhile and others aren’t. I've finally, figured out what's missing. The albums don't have a wow factor. You and jazz musicians such as Coleman knew how to wow.