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Makanda Ken McIntyre: A New Beginning

This sunny album is the last recorded by multiple-woodwind soloist Ken McIntyre before his death last year. Despite rare ventures into free jazz, such as his intense playing on Cecil Taylor’s 1966 Unit Structures, McIntyre was happy to spend most of his career in the doorway between inside and outside jazz. At his best, he produced solos as rewarding as the opener and closer on this CD. McIntyre plays the fast “Black Sugar Cane” on alto sax, beginning with lovely, witty melodies before careening into wild, seemingly out-of-control high lines alternating with double-time, middle-register passages. His bass clarinet solo on “A New Beginning” is similarly contrary to the changes and medium-up beat. These are flights of fancy, quite in contrast to McIntyre’s aggressive hard-bop rhythm section of pianist Joanne Brackeen, bassist Wilber Morris and drummer Charli Persip. They all swing hard. Brackeen especially contributes brief but well-formed solos, and Persip’s energy is a delight.

McIntyre’s main instrument is alto, which he plays with a rather detached tone, a slow, narrow vibrato and a light attack. It’s all quite different from his bold, slashing friend Eric Dolphy, who at the turn of the ’60s struggled with the inside-outside issues that stimulate McIntyre here. He plays low, low bassoon tones on “Joyous Remembrance,” a ballad resembling Monk’s “Ask Me Now,” and chipper flute, strictly inside, on two calypsos.

Two of his songs present unusual conflicts. “Witch’s Brew” alternates ruminative inside phrases, rubato moments and sudden violent strain endings with distorted tones and trills on bass clarinet. And on the ballad “Tomorrow? Tonight!” he alternates inside sweetness with agonized outside moods on oboe. These two songs suggest a dramatic side to McIntyre that calls for further development. It’s not the only provocative, unfinished aspect to his music-we lost Ken McIntyre too soon.

Originally Published