On this day in 1963, Jackie McLean stepped into Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studio to record Destination… Out! for Blue Note Records. The album offers an interesting snapshot of the development of jazz during the early 1960s, where bebop and blues begin to give ground to something altogether different: a ‘new thing’, or new ‘avant-garde’.
The alto saxophonist was raised in a New York neighbourhood frequented by some of the most prominent names in jazz. As a young man, he practiced with the likes of Sonny Rollins, Bud Powell, and even found the chops to play in Miles Davis’ band and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
His style, described by Cook and Morton as “menthol-sharp”, owed more than a small debt to Charlie Parker’s fleet-footed bebop improvisations of the ‘40s, but through his association with Blue Note the musician began to engage with the abstract and exploratory possibilities of free jazz. As such, Destination… Out! moves away from the open accessibility of 1962’s Bluesnik and builds on the progress of what is perhaps McLean’s greatest recording as leader, Let Freedom Ring (1963).
McLean is joined by Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Grachan Moncur III on trombone, Larry Ridley on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums. Hutcherson opens the album’s first track, ‘Love and Hate’, and his performances throughout are inventive, reflective, and at times melancholy. McLean’s playing dramatizes the tension between the structured playing of traditional blues and the hostile open plains of free jazz. In The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, Richard Cook and Brian Morton suggest that “Destination… Out! is a great album for the way it combines both idioms”. The album, and McLean’s Blue Note recordings more generally, document the central artistic tensions of early 1960s jazz.
“Destination… Out! offers valuable insights into the jazz music of the early 1960s, and the movement it documents still feels fresh and relevant to contemporary American culture.”
For me, Grachan Moncur III is the unsung hero of the date. On the record he performs thoughtful contributions and asides, and he stands as the composer of three of the four tunes (‘Love and Hate’, ‘Esoteric’, and ‘Riff Raff’). The album paves the way for Moncur’s first date as leader, Evolution (1964), which would be recorded with Hutcherson and McLean almost exactly two months later (the day before President Kennedy was shot). Destination… Out! offers valuable insights into the jazz music of the 1960s, and the movement it documents still feels fresh and relevant to contemporary American culture.