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The Essence All-Stars: A Tribute to Jackie Mclean: Jackie’s Blues Bag

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That unmistakable sharp pitch tone, stabbing percussive attack, swaggering phrasing, bittersweet lyricism and angular improvisational mayhem have long been associated with alto legend Jackie McLean. Those inimitable nuances paired with an equally magnificent penchant for crafting wickedly infectious, blues-drenched compositions have not only graced many Prestige and Blue Note classics but also have informed generations of younger altoists ranging from pop-meister Najee to freedom-swinger Oliver Lake.

On this heartfelt tribute, a handful of compositions penned by one of the greatest living alto saxophonists is supremely executed with imaginative interpretations, feverish solos and vigorous immediacy. The formidable rhythm section, comprised of pianist and former McLean associate LaMont Johnson, drummer Idris Muhammad and bassist Rodney Whitaker, makes up the core of this recording as they accompany a whirlwind of sax greats like Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Donald Harrison and Abraham Burton. Unlike many tributes, this one does not attempt to ape the styling of its honoree. Instead, the musicians hone in on the spirit of the blues and the composition’s unforgettable melodies to concoct some tasteful interpretations like Marsalis’ hushed soprano sax musing on “Dr. Jackie” or the exuberant duet between Muhammad and Lovano on “Blues Inn.”

Jackies Blues Bag is one of those rare tributes that not only deserves, but demands, continuous play.