One Step Beyond is the first of three albums Jackie McLean made with Grachan Moncur III on trombone and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes (also Eddie Khan on bass and Tony Williams on drums). These three (the other two are Destination…Out! and Moncur’s Evolution ) are the crowning achievement of McLean’s Ornette Coleman-inspired pianoless «outside work» of the early Sixties. McLean has said that in the late Fifties he felt as if he was going nowhere until Ornette’s nascent harmolodics put the wind back in his sails. Not that he sounds much like Ornette on his albums that celebrate «free» playing (most notably Let Freedom Ring ), but compared to his earlier work with Miles, Trane and others, his post-Ornette Blue Notes give a more expressive voice to his characteristic exuberance. He was a trailblazer in bringing the techniques and innovations of the «free» players into the hard bop mainstream.
On One Step Beyond that exuberance is very much in evidence, although somewhat tempered by the brooding and dark meditations of Moncur. On «Saturday and Sunday» it is McLean’s mood that is infectious; his typically joyful alto sax solo is followed by an entry from Moncur that in no way changes the tone. Hutcherson, as usual, is masterful at adapting himself to the conditions of the moment. Here he knows that McLean’s one step beyond doesn’t take him far out enough to have lunch with Eric Dolphy, or even to arrive at the point of departure of Andrew Hill. His solo is beautifully precise in straddling the inside/outside fence McLean is building.
«Frankenstein,» along with «Ghost Town,» was written by Moncur. The title «Frankenstein» foreshadows the stalking, spooky rhythms the trombonist cultivates on «Ghost Town» and the two later albums, but this piece is about as upbeat as Moncur gets. Moncur is much admired by McLean, who suggested he still deserves wider recognition in a Jazz Times piece just recently. Like Ornette, Moncur’s playing style and composing talent more than compensate for a certain lack of conventional technical facility. While his solos don’t have the sharpness or speed of those of J. J. Johnson or Curtis Fuller, Moncur’s strong melodic imagination gives his work a good emotional wallop. Here McLean explores «out» territory and borrows a few squeals and squawks from Ornette Inc. He uses them more sparingly than his source, but not without effect.
«Blue Rondo» takes us briefly back into McLean’s hard bop happyland, only to lead into Moncur’s «Ghost Town.» This is a ready-made soundtrack for a stalker movie, as bassist Eddie Khan paces through a horror house full of drummer Tony Williams’ falling objects. McLean’s solo is thoughtful and well-constructed; Moncur’s is fine, but Hutcherson steals the show with a Milesian exploration of space and silence that splendidly brings together the inside and the outside.
This album is somewhat lumpy gravy; the front line of McLean, Moncur, and Hutcherson works better together on Destination…Out! and Evolution. Still, any Jackie McLean album can lift the spirits wonderfully. Pick it up during your next Jackie Mac attack.