What love is

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Jackie McLean fans who jumped on board with his tough ‘60s sides – Let Freedom Ring, One Step Beyond or Destination Out – know him as a post-hard bop alto saxophonist with an open affection for Charlie Parker, some graduate seminars with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey under his belt, and a constant willingness to explore new paths to revelation. Approaching 70, he continues to burn the midnight lamp with a commitment to making wild and lovely music, though clearly now favoring the lovely aspects. McLean’s latest Blue Note release is a seductive set of eight standards – their lyrics devoted to love, its comings and goings – with his unmistakable drawn-out tone, his headstrong sense of swing (even at ballad tempo) and his blue bop wisdom all intact. From the memory-in-suspended animation, classic yearning of "You Don’t Know What Love Is" to the late-’50s vamp of the title track (where pianist Cedar Walton digs down into Barry Harris-minimal moodyness and bassist David Williams solos as if this were some long-lost Yusef Lateef session), McLean opens the proceedings in a haunted and haunting frame of mind: Is this the sound of passionate golden eternity or what? Then from ballad to medium swinger to toe-tapping torch song, McLean and friends cover the waterfront of desire, with the great Billy Higgins on drums as chauffeur extraordinaire. By the time the pure heart-on-sleeve chutzpah of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" comes up and mugs you with its atmosphere, by the time "Star Eyes" grooves its way into your trembling heart, you’re a goner. Leaving the bass-alto unison intro on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" to sweep up the shattered little pieces of any resistance, Jackie’s back.

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