Jackie McLean: Let Freedom Ring (1962) Blue Note

Selection: Omega (McLean)

.  .  .

The usual pick on Let Freedom Ring is Melody For Melonae, a pungent composition for sure,  but Omega has a more modern feel, for 1962, which seems to me more modern than a lot of “modern” stuff. Love that opening upper-register bass riff syncopating with the piano and  cymbal accents, setting the scene for Jackie’s acid-sharp counterpoint wail, hare-ing off in a different direction,  then break out into a swing tempo, and return. The sidemen become the headline, Herbie Lewis fingering the neck of the bass, Walter Davis stabbing the keys, Billy Higgins in the engine room driving the percussion, beautiful ensemble piece, stand out track.

Omega is the last letter in the Greek alphabet, as in “alpha-to-omega”, and literally translates as”Great!” Music this great is a benchmark few come up to.

Artists

Jackie McLean, alto sax; Walter Davis Jr., piano; Herbie Lewis, bass; Billy Higgins, drums, recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, March 19, 1962, released April 1963.

Music:

Let Freedom Ring is noted for Jackie  McLean’s “provocative upper-register screams” (Wiki) – echoes of Mingus Pithecanthropus Erectus, rising cacophony from lumbering menace, whinnying and shrieking alto saxophone, 1956, one and the same player …Mr  Jackie McLean.

Soon after his  internship with Mingus, two years with Prestige gave McLean a solid foundation of hard bop recordings, which also helped fund his heroin problem.  The consequent loss of his New York City Cabaret Card on drug charges denied him club dates, and of necessity he turned to more studio recording, which fortuitously gifted us a rich vinyl legacy which the club dates would not have. Once again, always something good comes out of something bad.

McLean’s signing with Blue Note ran from 1959 to 1967. Playing with passion, his early titles for Blue Note gave little indication of the fork in the road ahead.  He kicked off with standards on Swing, Swang, Swingin’ (1959), brief signs of fissure on New Soil, held in check by Donald Byrd, back to hard swinging bop on Jackie’s Bag, the “tough, unreconstructed modern blues” of Bluesnik (1961) and the bluesy swinger A Fickle Sonance (1961).

Then came a seismic shift that must have been brewing in Jackie’s mind. In 1962 McLean stepped off  the conventional swinging hard-bop platform and boarded the Freedom Express train. Fortunately his ticket to ride came with the sponsorship of Blue Note, whose less far-out titles (Jimmy Smith anyone?) helped pay the bills.

McLean had experience of long-form composition from his time with Mingus, and he brought this into play on three of the four lengthy compositions on Let Freedom Ring.   “Freedom” is a multi-level metaphor: freedom from traditional playing, inside the chord changes,  freedom to play outside the chord changes, to leverage dissonance; freedom of expression, embrace the modal landscape as the canvas for that expression, and perhaps “freedom” in the civil rights sense, liberation. Freedom sounds a good proposition, however when Freedom Rings for you, always ask if you can reverse the charges.

McLean’s ongoing journey was marked by a sequence of Blue Note albums: Let Freedom Ring (1962) One Step Beyond (1964) Destination… Out! (1964) It’s Time! (1965) Right Now! (1966) Action Action Action (1967) However, come 1967, Liberty was interested in a different new direction, and it wasn’t the artistic “freedom” direction, it was the commercialisation direction, pleasing paying customers. Jackie was cast adrift.

While listening to Jackie expressing himself, playing his heart out,  I also like to listen to Team McLean, and how they handle Jackie’s adventurous ideas – the unsung heroes of Let Freedom Ring, who provide the underpinning for Jackie freedom, not so much freedom for them.

Billy Higgins provides unflinching propulsion, relentless punishment of the snare drum, (which I am assured it relishes, rather than all that silky brushwork). Thinking of other drummers, Elvin Jones I find overpowering, too much splash and smash, Blakey has a lot of showmanship and swing with his drive, while at the other extreme, Anthony Williams and Paul Motian are gourmet front-line instrumentalists, Michelin-starred fine-dining-tuned drums. Higgins is single-minded propulsion, driving the music forward,  urging on the other musicians. Walter Davis comping with a strong rhythmic accents meshes nicely with Higgins. Herbie Lewis, who played with all the greats, was a frequent player with Billy Higgins and provides a strong foundation, functional not showy. All a perfect foil against which Jackie can devolp freedom of expression, without feeling impisoned within the chord changes, and without  falling into the abyss that is  free jazz.

The compositions are big on dramatic openings, Melody for Melonae (his daughter) quirky jumpy tunes – Rene (his son), signature tunes which open the way to the  improvisational heart of each piece. My favourite is the more pacy Omega, with its large spacious canvas, interesting harmonies, may be a little less Ornette-inspired Freedom, all with an infectious beat (poor choice of words for today, LJC)

Vinyl: BN 4106 Mono 152gm.

Pastylite ear, NY labels,VAN GELDER stamp, narrow deep groove side 1 only. Cohen: 1st ed. is deep groove both sides. As with Prestige/ New Jazz, the ’50s deep groove became slimmer over time, before disappearing altogether, replaced by a single “ridge” or “step”, effectively around 1964-5.

4106-DG-noDG-1920px-CloseUp-LJC

Side 1 deep groove , Side 2 no deep groove.

Inner Picture Sleeve “present”

In the circumstances, possibly a mixed up inner sleeve, or a later pressing from early 1966. First of the two 27 Years, Larry Young Inta Somethin’ Col 6 Row 4.  The DG Side 1 says it is not from the original 1963 pressing run, but possibly pressed before the end of 1965, when the deep groove die made a final and infrequent appearance. A first half 1966 inner sleeve is plausible.

In passing, having lots of spare time, and finally mastered Cohens’s schedule of which 1st ed. titles are associated with exactly which sleeve, I have updated the Blue Note Guide to Inner Sleeves, with an easy reference list. Also added is a schedule of Liberty’s release of Blue Notes between July 1966 and November 1967, by month and title, which is I think actually original. Cohen’s schedule, based on Schwann catalogues, does not include the later liberty-release titles.Mine is assembled from Billboard’s weekly new LP listing and spotlight trade reviews , a bit labour intensive, but another benefit of staying home.

Collector’s Corner

I have a confession to make. The jacket pictured above is a fake, a Photoshop reconstruction blended from three sources. But it looks pretty authentic, and text is readable at full screen, something I have always prided myself on producing, a reference source  of readable liner notes.  McLean felt sufficiently strongly about the musical stand he had taken with Let Freedom Ring , to explain himself, insisted on writing the album’s liner notes himself, so especially worth reading.

Actually, all I have of the jacket is pictured below. That is all there is. And I have only a Japanese King for the front cover, which was Photoshopped for the post from stereo to mono.  But it is original Blue Note vinyl, though not THE original.

The back cover is annoted with a request: “Can You Keep These Covers. Rick Duncan, Jazz Dept. ” and the filing number “MJ347”.  MJ:  Modern Jazz? This fragment of the liner notes is all that survived, originating in a small batch of original Blue Notes in the custody of the British armed forces in Aden, the Aden Forces Broadcasting Authority (AFBA) . Aden, known today as Yemen, was a British Protectorate during the 1950s.

The city of Aden is situated at the foot of the Suez Canal, which defines the border between Africa and Asia, and connects the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. It provided shipping  access to Europe without having to sail the circumference of Africa: probably the most strategically important territory on the planet. Suez fell victim of conflict between Egypt and Israel in 1956, and subsequently became a United Nations Protectorate,  and there was a peace-keeping force in place until the ’70s, enter the AFBA Music Department.

The AFBA radio station broadcast music and news, and messages to British troops  from wives and sweathearts, sometimes both, if Tommy had zipper trouble.  BBC radio comedy transcription discs provided a much-needed laugh, and the music selection included modern jazz. Somehow, a handful of these discs found their way through military asset clearance channels, and several decades later, eventually to Ebay, where a private deal was done over the phone for the rest of the three other discs in the Blue Note parcel.

Three ’60s Blue Notes had traveled  around the world from the US to England via The Yemen, you could say made a Maiden Voyage, (one of the other disc was Hancock’s Empyrean Isle). Rick Duncan was clearly a Blue Note fan. Right man, wrong place, Aden.

Deep Groove?

About that Blue Note deep groove. A rummage in auction results for Let Freedom Ring   found three distict groove patterns, all claiming original status. As already noted, Cohen lists 1st edition as deep groove both sides. All three label pairs below have the ear and Van Gelder stamp, and some claim “deep groove” when it is just one side, or not really a real deep groove at all.

No 1 is definitively classic wide deep groove both sides, as the 1963 “original”  should look. It is rare. Two cases had inner sleeve present, both the “correct one”

No 2 is thin deep groove side 1 only, and not deep groove Side 2, characteristic of later pressings.The thin deep groove creates anxiety, is it, is it not?

No 3 was the highest priced seller ($400+), and definitely not deep groove either side.

Does the groove it matter? That depends I guess on you and why you are a collector. Or whether you are the seller. “Original” is a trigger word, widely used, sentiment matters. Who wants to be not original?

Freedom comes at a price. Price reflects scarcity, desirability, and condition, and Let Freedom Ring sits comfortably into three figures. Popsike top twenty auction results consists almost entirely of mono editions, tells the story-

Indeed, Freedom comes at a high price, though not as high as some others. What to make of some of the other offerings? Vinyl Detective’s report for duty, a few interesting auction finds in another virtual crate-dig.

LJC’s VIRTUAL CRATE DIG

Stereo? Somebody say Stereo?

What does a 1st Edition stereo look like? The groove status of Blue Note stereo has not been documented. This may or may not be the original stereo edition, and First Pressing Fundementalsts seek only mono. The copy is DG on one side only, a common permutation on 1963 pressings. I would put money on it. Well, your money on it.

Stickered mono cover ? In 1963?

Next up, another stereo, but with a stickered mono cover. Stereo format was well established by 1963. I suspect what Blue Note needed to do is get rid of its surplus stock of mono covers.

Laminated original cover, who cares about grooves.

Beautiful original laminated mono cover, this title among the last with the benefit of lamination. The vinyl is a later non-deep goove pressing, but you have to love that cover.

We need to talk about Mickey…

Everything was looking good, original mono cover, correct inner sleeve, I’d say not deep groove both sides, but unfortunately, owned by Mickey.

Inner Sleeve Stories

So where do we stand on the LJC theory of inner sleeves? Especially my AFBA 27 Years?  Here is what an auction review offered (not many!) but it’s evidence of sorts.  Only seven inners identified in auction photos:

This pattern suggets a few mix-ups (1 or 3) , a few correct (2), and suggests evidence of later repress, end 65 early 66 (3) . Not much to go on, but what you might expect of  a record repeatedly repressed in small batches over several years.

Let Freedom Ring – The Final Mystery.

LJC reader Mark R sent me pictures of his copy of Jackie McLean’ s Let Freedom Ring. It is unusual, to say the least.

Cover looks conventional, and notes date of purchase, April 1963, which was around the date of its first edition.

But Wait! Authentic Blue Note BN 4106 vinyl with ear, and ….umm… black label.

It gets worse, much worse. The run-out has the matrix code and VAN GELDER stamp scratched out. I mean who would do such a thing to Rudy?

Then an inscription scratched in its place, “CIRCLE STUDIOS SF MASTER #4”. The original buyer said it was sealed, and a part of a batch of Blue Note promo copies he purchased. Charles Manson, is that you?

VAN GELDER stamp and matrix code scratched out, Plastylite ear clearly shown

Black label, narrow deep groove, mystical scratched text CIRCLE STUDIOS SF MASTER #4

Apparently it plays very nicely.

And the original owner believed it was sealed at the time of purchase in New York. Memory can be a tricky thing, as best I recall.  Sealed  seems odd for a 1963 Blue Note, let alone a promo. Sealing Blue Note in shrink I believe started only with Liberty, or you can put me right. And who would scratch out a VAN GELDER stamp, apart from, I suspect, the young Steve Hoffman? He often dissed Rudy, and Blue Note originals. Any other suspects? It’s likely not Mickey, too neat and tidy for him.

Is this “normal” behaviour for San Francisco 1963? Or New York?

Can you think of any explanation? I haven’t a clue, stay home, stay safe, detectives. The cleverest or most plausible explanation, or even the right one. at a pinch… over to you.

LJC,  Consulting Vinyl Detective (failed)

My thanks to Mark R for the photos and story-line! If you have any mysteries up your sleeve, there’s probably around a thousand readers at home who can help you out.

14 thoughts on “Jackie McLean: Let Freedom Ring (1962) Blue Note

  1. Excellent review and commentary as always. Particularly the choice of cut. Omega is great isn’t it? Had to dig out my stereo Liberty copy which looks like it may be an A1 B1 but are those 1’s or just marks, hard to say to these eyes. Regardless a fine sound with in the room Mr Higgins leaving me with no desire to upgrade/side grade. It is a West Coast pressing, I’d say, as denoted by the All upper case SIDE 1 and 2.

    This then gave me the taste and off I went down rabbit hole with Wayne Shorter’s All Seeing Eye next up. Mr Hancock particularly impressing me with his solo’s on Chaos. And CHAOS it is, what a superb cut, further enhanced by my second cup of coffee of the morning giving my mind the ability to keep up with the players.

    Keep up the good work LJC.

  2. i am beginning to increasingly lean toward no deep groove being the first press after Undercurrent, i must say. inner sleeve evidence seems to lean in that direction, though not definitively.

  3. Dear LJC!

    How come you haven’t weighed the vinyl?!

    My copy has laminated jacket, no company inner sleeve, ears and maybe deep groove on side 1. I cannot tell for sure because of water damage. I used to think it wasn’t a deep groove but now I believe it is. Vinyl weight anyway is 165 g.

    • Good call, I forgot to weigh it: 152 gm. That puts it at the mid-60’s end of the scale rather than the early ’60s. Indicative rather than conclusive, but increased confidence. I’ve added a macro of the grooves, side-lit and angled, highlights the differences.

  4. Where can I find the article you wrote called: GET MAGNETISED. Thanks, Thomas Grund

    On Sat, Apr 11, 2020 at 11:22 AM LondonJazzCollector wrote:

    > LondonJazzCollector posted: ” Selection: Omega (McLean) . . . Artists > Jackie McLean, alto sax; Walter Davis Jr., piano; Herbie Lewis, bass; Billy > Higgins, drums, recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, March > 19, 1962, released April 1963. Music: ” >

  5. Other that some UK promo singles that came with black labels the only time I’ve seen labels blacked out and inscriptions added to the run out is on Reggae sound system records although I believe similar happened to Northern Soul records. Somebody wanted to keep the title covered up and to prevent anybody taking a sneaky peek at the matrices to identify what was being played, there is precedent for this going back at least as far as the fifties in Jamaica and including Jazz, I wouldn’t be surprised if some deejays did similar in 1960s America.

  6. I have an stereo copy of this with NY labels, ear, no dg and VAN GELDER STEREO in dead wax. I also have the inner sleeve that you marks as the correct one.

  7. Hey LJC,

    very nice post about a Blue Note I don’t have. I’m still trying to get my hands on a first pressing of “Action”, “Destination Out” and “Let Freedom Ring”, all of which I remember you posting detailed descriptions and pictures about.

    You gotta love Photoshop, right? Luckily I don’t have any covers with a missing upper half, but the cover of my white label promo copy of Horace Tapscott’s “The Giant Is Awakened” has a suffered water damage that needs some “healing brush” here and there from PS. Why would anyone want to see a high resolution photography of a damaged cover? I guess “cheating” is doing the jazz public a service, actually. 😀

    • Oh, I meant to say “One Step Beyond” instead of “Let Freedom Ring” – I always confuse the two. Anyway, I’d take both.

      Milan

      • Great work on fine McLean album . Interestingly it came 4 months after Kenny Dorham’s” Inta Something” and 2 weeks before Dorham’s “Matador “. Both fine albums. It is also of interest to see 3 sessions were done between “Freedom” and ‘One Step Beyond ‘. And none were released at the time.
        Quintet Blue Note 4116 was listed in Schwann catalogues at the time but was not released. Tippin’ the scales and Vertigo were also not released at the time. The only one of these that shows further style development in my estimation is Vertigo with a very young Tony Williams.
        McLean made one recording for Blue Note in July 1968 but apparently, Jackie was not happy with the drummer Norman Connors so the session was rejected.
        My copy seems to be a mixed bag . Mono ,New York label with ear and small Rudy Van Gelder stamp,
        Laminated cover and a liberty inner sleeve . Go figure .

        • Listening to McLean’s “Let Freedom Ring” always sends me to Dorham’s “Matador.” I have a very clean early Liberty stereo copy of the former (complete with Van Gelder stamp), but unfortunately UA worked its dark sonic arts on “Matador” – As far as I can tell there is no printing of it that doesn’t sound completely blech. That’s an album ripe for the Tone Poet treatment.

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