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John McLean: Easy Go

John McLean is one of a plethora of accomplished post-Stern/Scofield plectorists who have one educated foot planted firmly in the jazz/bebop tradition while revealing their rockier roots by occasionally stomping with the other excited foot on a distortion box or wah-wah pedal. Opening his debut recording with a contemporary Hammond B-3 quintet sound, McLean swings forcefully while highlighting his blazing single-note chops on “Fat Chance.” The Breckerish tenor saxophonist Jim Gailloretto is particularly strong on this vibrant tune and also on the surging “October,” a B-3 romp that is fueled by Adam Nussbaum’s powerful pulse on drums and McLean’s own blistering forward momentum on the fretboard. The guitarist kicks out a bit of nasty distortion on “Cowboy” and luxuriates in a gospel-blues bag on “My Brother Richard,” though his writing on originals like the soothing bossa “Sag Harbor,” the ethereal Wayne Shorter-influenced “Desperate Measures” and the lyrical closing title track is far more affecting.

McLean also chooses his covers wisely, turning in an achingly beautiful trio rendition of the delicate Bill Evans/Miles Davis classic “Blue in Green,” with Larry Kohut on upright bass and Nussbaum on brushes, and then smoking Woody Shaw’s “Blues for Wood,” which features some spirited exchanges between B-3 burner Karl Montzka and tenor man Gailloretto. But perhaps the most surprising cover here is McLean’s interpretation of Jaco Pastorius’ beautiful waltz-time ballad “Three Views of a Secret,” which doesn’t really reveal itself until after two minutes of an unaccompanied solo acoustic guitar intro before heading into the tender, familiar theme.

The mix of electric and acoustic guitars throughout lends more texture and depth to McLean’s first outing. His exhilarating and highly expressive playing on both instruments is the icing on this very substantial, swinging cake.

Originally Published