It was at Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on 19 March 1962 that Jackie McLean’s quartet gather to record Let Freedom Ring, which The Penguin Guide to Jazz describes as him, “Shrugging off the last fetter of bop harmony.” Miss it and you’ll be the poorer
Three tracks are Jackie McLean originals and ‘I’ll Keep Loving You’ is a Bud Powell tune. All four are fabulous and the alto saxophonist’s playing is inspired, which is why this album is so justly revered. From the opening bars of ‘Melody For Melonae’, with Higgins’s drums sounding as though they are right there in the room, you know you are in for something special and significantly different from a Blue Note date of the period. Joining McLean and Higgins are Walter Davis on piano and Herbie Lewis on bass.
Throughout Let Freedom Ring there is evidence of the influence of Ornette Coleman. Higgins was a Coleman band alumnus, but this recording remains a unique post-bop album that has elements of the avant-garde on display and it feels like the link from the old to the new. Yet despite its modernist credentials, the music is also steeped in the blues: both tracks on side two of the original album are based on the old 12-bars
McLean had already cut nine albums for Prestige before his 1959 Blue Note debut, New Soil, and this was his seventh record for the label – in spite of his prodigious output he was still only 30 when this album was recorded. His first Blue Note session had been in 1952 for Miles Davis, a week before his 21st birthday.
A comparative rarity among Blue Note albums from the period, this one features McLean’s own liner notes, and very good and informative they are, too. He was well aware of his position in the pantheon of jazz and the one thing that comes over clearly is his humility. Mc Lean later became a teacher and founded his own musicians’ collective.