Jackie McLean: A Fickle Sonance (1961) Blue Note/Toshiba (LNJ series) Test Pressing


Selection: A Fickle Sonance (Mclean)



Tommy Turrentine (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto saxophone) Sonny Clark (piano) Butch Warren (bass) Billy Higgins (drums) Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 26, 1961


Amazon’s official review excels itself, so I’ll put my feet up and let them wax lyrical:

There’s a quality in Jackie McLean’s Blue Note recordings of the early 1960s, a mix of the hip (the rhythmic swagger, the confident aggression) and the searching, an exploratory fervor and questioning that subtly undermines all assurances, resulting in a distinct and genuine art. It’s akin to similar elements in his great contemporaries but it’s definitely McLean’s own. In 1961, he was absorbing modal forms into his music and they melded with his blues-based intensity, adding structural coherence to his solos.


He’s joined here by an excellent band, though two of his key partners are woefully underrated. Trumpeter Tommy Turrentine is a brassy player of the Clifford Brown school, who’s capable of genuine warmth at slower tempos. Pianist Sonny Clark is possessed tremendous linear invention and bluesy depths that complement the saxophonist’s own. Drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Butch Warren, both Blue Note regulars, complete the group

Dissonance became an important element of the post-bop genre. Used in proportion, it reveals a tension between the “right notes” and the ones outside, outside  the tonal centre, creating an interest and excitement, borne of the element of surprise. As all jazz listeners understand, in music there are no wrong notes. Or perhaps it’s just  a case of picking the right wrong notes.

McLean’s acid sharp alto dissonates (or whatever the correct verb of to be dissonant is) with Tommy Turrentine’s fluid glittering trumpet. Tommy Turrentine  has just one title to his name as leader, for the Time label.

“As a trumpet soloist Turrentine had all the qualities necessary for greatness. He had a full, warm tone throughout the range of the instrument and possessed the ability to create solos using long unbroken lines. His flair for melodic improvisation using long climaxes often contrasted sharply with the more disjointed creations of younger men who seemed anxious to brush aside convention”. – Alun Morgan

More on Tommy Turrentine at  the excellent Curt’s Jazz Café , a sort of LJC but with an added double espresso.

Tommy has  rightly been described as under-rated, unlike his younger brother Stanley, whose slightly “middle of the road” tenor (apologies to his many fans) was perhaps one of the more over-recorded. To me Tommy has much of Miles and Hubbard about his voice, which is a compliment. Sonny Clarke swings ferociously, upbeat, rhythmic and bluesy,  egged on by Billy Higgins powering his way behind the front line, with Butch Warren hard walking the bass.

A fascinating recording session, of a giant at the point of transition.

Vinyl:  Toshiba LNJ-85017 – stereo test pressing of Blue Note BLP 4089.

I had totally overlooked the Blue Note Toshiba-EMI years prior to the more widely available King releases (1978-83) and later Toshiba (1983 to present day) . Harumph, my oversight.


According to authority on all things Blue Note in Japan, ‘Shaolin’, no sooner had Blue Note fallen into the hands of Liberty in 1966, than Toshiba began to distribute titles imported from the US to Japan, decked out with an OBI. This was followed by an unsuccessful format series of 45rpm disks, until finally in 1976 Toshiba began to release Japanese-pressed Blue Note LPs, in a series of 76 Blue Note titles, the LNJ series.

McLean’s  Fickle Sonance was the last but one title in the series, and it is also my only copy in the LNJ series, which is a pity as it is sonically and musically a delight (not having an original, of course)


Blue Note acknowledged as a United Artists trademark, issued before the King Records initiative started in 1978. Toshiba was to re-emerge only later as King was dropped in favour of EMI Toshiba around 1983.

Nominated “Most Effective Use of a Hat on a Jazz Album Cover” (save my own) by LJC contributor Auguste Renoir:

auguste-renoir-demeerkat “an arresting design because of Reid Miles bold decision to chop Jackie’s face in half, holding his houndstooth check hat in place as though buffeted by the musical winds of change, from The Outside.  Inspired artwork, a  perfect metaphor for the music, and not a musical instrument in sight.”

Liner Notes LJC-super-sharp ™ Double click for full screen, check who’s been plagiarising the Ira Gitler’s commentary.


Collectors Corner

Whilst Japanese reissues are often not as strong presentation as original Plastylite pressings, the EMI-Toshiba LNJ series, if this is anything to judge by, is worthy of attention.

Where to find them is another question, especially as your averageEbay  seller thinks he has done well identifying it as a “Japanese pressing”, never mind which company and chronologically, when. Trust  Microgroove.jp to have the lowdown. We all owe a debt of gratitude to  MATSUBAYASHI, ‘Shaolin’ Kohji.  http://microgroove.jp/bluenote-jpn/1968-1977.html  for his magnificent reference source.


Re-aquainting myself with this album, as you do when reviewing it, I found it a discovery. Gives a new resonance to Weick’s quote attributed to various US presidents: “How do I know what I think till I hear what I say?”.  It actually works that way.  

I found myself reaching to the shelf for the original Blue Note, but returned empty-handed. Though I have all McLean’s further out subsequent releases for Blue Note, Fickle Sonance remains a gap on my shelf.

On past experience, when the reissues are this good, the originals are invariably even better, something to bear in mind when someone sings the praises of re-issues. Without a point of reference,”sounds great” doesn’t really tell you how it compares with other choices. However, this one sounds good to listen to, so it passes the most important test.

Curious if anyone else has any EMI -Toshiba LJN issues of note, and their opinion of them, for better or worse.

10 thoughts on “Jackie McLean: A Fickle Sonance (1961) Blue Note/Toshiba (LNJ series) Test Pressing

  1. LNJ-80139 Duke Jordan Flight to Jordan. Sharp album sporting a deep blue and bright lighter yellow. Sound on par with the other at I have. and a bit richer than the 1990’s I think Toshiba pressing of A Fickle Sonance… which is very clean and airy…but now sounding a bit thin compared to some of the Tone Poets pressings.

  2. BTW this Tommy Turrentine LP is really nice. Underrated artist, when i see the Turrentine brothers credited i always know to expect a great session

  3. Have a few LNJs in my collection, to my ears they sound comparable with King pressings, certainly better than the 90s Toshibas

  4. I’ve got a couple of those:
    -LNJ of Doug Watkins on Transition
    -NR8837 Horace Silver 1518
    Both sound good to me and are nice pressings.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on the micro groove.jp site recently (what a great resource along with your label guide and posts) as I’ve gone through my BN Japanese pressings and tried to figure out what they are exactly. I’ve been enjoying them a lot and picked up quite a few more this year–got a nice little collection going now.

    I’d generally agree with much of the discussion I’ve read about these online. The Kings are very nice, but the Toshibas can be great as well–just as you found with the Boland/Clarke. I didn’t like a couple more recent (2000s digital?) titles I had, but otherwise they have been well worth it. I have found examples in each series that sound quite good, along with the occasional title that sounds a bit flat or polite.

  5. I’ll check but I think all of my Tosh Blue Notes are the French ones — apart perhaps from Zoot Sims/Juuta Hipp and maybe one other that I can’t bring to mind. Do I mean French ones? I think I do. But perhaps they aren’t really Toshiba but Marconi. God alone knows — I’m sure I don’t. I find the labelography/provenance of these things impossible to keep in my head…

    Very enjoyable track, btw. Sometimes, however, the very qualities that Jackie is known for — that raw, urgent, keening tone — can be a bit relentless unless I’m in the right mood, and maybe here in the office, listening on the computer, I’m not…

  6. According to Robin D.G. Kelley’s definitive biography on Thelonious Monk (p. 311), the opening cut on this album “Five Will Get You Ten” credited to Sonny Clark is actually an unrecorded Monk tune called “Two Timer” that Clark apparently heard Monk play during a soirée at Nica’s house and offered it as his own during this session. It certainly sounds Monkish.

    • I have also read that due to Clark’s ongoing drug problems and spiraling dissipation, he was desperate for composition credits on these recordings for any extra bread, which likely led to the theft. Even though it is a near certainty that Monk knew about the theft, he and Clark were friends and Monk never said a word about it.

  7. I have this as a NYC mono and a later Toshiba pressing from 1990. The mono has much more bite and grunt than the rather clean sounding Toshiba. I got the Japanese pressing because the RVG CD of this session sounded like a low quality AM broadcast. The mono followed because I’d come to love the session. FS is right up there with Jackie’s best. Generally I tend to prefer his dates with another horn. Tommy T isn’t especially memorable because Jackie gets all my attention.

  8. I hunted down japanese BN pressings before I started going for the REAL stuff. Shaolin’s page was of great help. After collecting 50 or so different BN titles in different japanese pressings, I made my own very subjective rating with few exceptions of that rule(best first, worst last): King , Toshiba (83-84, BLP,reissue of the 1500 titles on heavier vinyl,), Toshiba (90, BN,) , Toshiba (84-85, BNJ), Toshiba (70s, LNJ), Toshiba (99+, TOJJ, digital brrr..).
    To my ears, the LNJ titles sound a bit flat. At one time I owned 6 issues of Blue Train: W63i, NYC, MM, DivLib, GXK, LNJ — personal preference in that order.
    Right now I own 1521, 1509 as LNJ and two unissued 84116 and1592.
    One exception soundwise is my copy of lee’ morgans candy NR-8842, pressed by toshiba musical industries in early 70s. This sounds comparable to the early liberty 1500′ reissues.

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