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French Version

Jazz maestro McLean set to shake things up at Baalbeck Festival

The legend and his quartet will deliver a concert not to be missed

So far this summer in Lebanon the buzzwords on all concert fans' lips have been Placebo, Jimmy Cliff, Paul Van Dyk and Massive Attack. While wholly justified, it is perhaps shameful that very little buzz has surrrounded alto jazz saxophone legend Jackie McLean, who will be performing at the Baalbeck Festival in the Temple of Bacchus on Friday.

I say that because of all the above, excepting perhaps Cliff in the reggae genre of the late 1960s and Massive Attack in the electro-dub genre of the early 1990s, none of the jazz masters nurtured in the 1950s who is still alive today has had such an important effect on the genre. And to experience him in a setting such as Baalbeck is something not to be missed.

Following in the footsteps of pianist Ahmed Jamal, who shook the Greek god of wine's pillars in 2003, Mclean with his quartet - his son Rene McLean on tenor sax, Alan Jay Palmer on piano, Nat Reeves on double bass and Eric McPherson on drums - will no doubt do the same.

Born in New York in 1932, a pupil of the indefatigable Bud Powell and a contemporary of (as well as collaborator with) Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and the whole bag of 50s and 60s jazz greats, McLean has shaped the direction of jazz after bebop from the standpoint of bandleader, saxophonist, professor and community arts activist and, most importantly, composer.

He has been hugely productive, first signing with Prestige Records after a hook up with Davis (the 1951 recording "Dig"), and following that with Blue Note Records in the late 50s, where he was given complete creative freedom. In 10 often hectic years McLean produced over 30 recordings including gems such as "Action, Action, Action," "One Step Beyond," "Destination ..." "Right Now!" "It's Time," and "Let Freedom Ring!"

Of these, the latter was the record that really broke the draconian rulebook of straight bop, and perhaps appropriately it came after McLean had kicked his addiction to that other seductive form of music - heroin.

"Let Freedom Ring!" was a record of pure composition featuring the accomplished band of Walter Davis, Jr. on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. "Ring!" rocks with McLean's clipped phrasing and Higgins's jumping cymbal bounce.

"The search is on," he wrote in the original liner notes, and McLean has kept on searching for four decades since.

This Friday, expect a little bit of the past and much of the present: innovative, accomplished jazz that shines with the influence of Charlie Parker but is far evolved from the founder of bebop. It will be alto sax of the avant-garde twinned with tight piano composition and a solid bass and drums rhythm section.

The jazz scene in Lebanon is exploding. Local bands are progressing here today in fits and starts much as the jazz genre in the United States has done since the 1930s, and international stars are increasingly willing to add Lebanon and Beirut to their circuit - we have just witnessed the Beirut International Jazz Festival featuring the likes of Jacques Loussier and John McLaughlin, and in September we will see the Liban Jazz Festival featuring Archie Shepp and Anouar Brahem. And on Friday we have Jackie McLean in Baalbeck: New York vibes with the essence of Mingus, Trane, Bird and Miles.

Beirut,07 19 2004
Ramsay Short
The Daily Star
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