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December 1997

Makanda Ken McIntyre
The Complete United Artists Sessions
Blue Note Records

All but forgotten now, Ken McIntyre was one of the finest woodwind players (alto sax, flute, oboe) to emerge in the early 1960s. By 1962-3, when the material on this two CD set was cut, he'd already recorded with Eric Dolphy. McIntyre was also an impressive composer who employed, by 1960 standards, unusual forms and meters.

On the first CD McIntyre uses a string section to augment his combo for seven tracks. During the last five and first two on the second disc he plays with a quartet including pianist Jaki Byard. The remainder are by a quintet containing trombonist John Mancebo Lewis and pianist Ed Stoute. On the tracks with strings, which have tight arrangements, McIntyre turns in fragmented solos, fitting them into the contexts of the charts. The other selections are less formal.

McIntyre cites Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker as his major influences. You can hear them in his playing, but he's fashioned a style of his own. On the second CD he demonstrates his ability to swing hard and exhibits a penetrating tone on alto, his primary instrument.

He often uses wide interval skips and the extreme upper register, although he's got a nice full sound at the lower end of his horn. He contributes warm, singing flute solos. His command of the hard-to-play oboe leaves something to be desired, but he improvises well enough on it to demonstrate, as Yusef Lateef and Bob Cooper did, that its possibilities as a jazz solo instrument should be explored.

Listener interest will not flag during the spots of Byard, Stoute and Lewis. Jaki's work has received plenty of praise, but the other two also impress. Stoute's melodic, graceful work makes me want to hear more by him. He gets into the heart of the chords, seemingly selecting the choicest notes. His work reminds me of Charlie Mingus' piano playing on his 1955 Period recordings. Lewis obviously has been marked by J.J. Johnson, but has his own variant of the style, marked by a big, fat sound, fluent technique and a rich imagination.

Originally published in December 1997
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