Personnel: Jackie McLean (alto saxophone); Donald Byrd (trumpet); Walter Davis, Jr. (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Pete La Roca (drums).
Producer: Alfred Lion.
Reissue producer: Michael Cuscuna.
Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on May 2, 1959. Includes liner notes by Joe Goldberg.
With his tart, slightly sharp timbre, fervent vocal cry, and Bird-like rhythmic inclinations, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean put a lot of ooomph in hard bop. Throughout the 1950s the Harlem native apprenticed with the likes of Miles Davis and Art Blakey, steadily gaining confidence in his command of harmony and balladry. But the bluesy, church-like quality which came to distinguish hard bop always seemed to come naturally to McLean. NEW SOIL finds McLean playing to his strengths with a powerhouse band of youngsters in the spring of 1959. And with its mature mix of no nonsense groove tunes and up-tempo, exploratory solo flights, NEW SOIL remains one of McLean's greatest achievements.
Much credit belongs to the mightily underrated Walter Davis, Jr., a cliche-free pianist in the tradition of Monk and Bud Powell, who pens four distinctive tunes: The rocking "Greasy" proceeds from the kind of boogie-woogie groove that was Louis Jordan's legacy to Elvis, and "Davis Cup" is a hard-charging mix of big band accents and Milesian harmonic movement, while "Sweet Cakes" and "Formidable" mix freely from Latin and blues sources.
And what a rhythm section. On "Hip Strut," Paul Chambers and Pete LaRoca set up a deep, mentholated blues groove, with hip little stop-time accents and melodic articulations, that's earthy yet transparent. Davis' coquettish comping teases McLean and Donald Byrd into swinging, expressive refrains after each vamp, before he breaks into his own elegant brand of funk. And then there's McLean's thrilling "Minor Apprehension," which showcases the rhythm section's interplay and cohesion at an ungodly tempo. McLean and Byrd hand-glide through the changes with cutting testimonies, while LaRoca's famous solo--morphing out of time in a bold abstraction of the tune--is often cited as a precursor to the free-form innovations of Tony Williams.