Fifty Year Friday: Jackie McLean “Demon’s Dance”
Unlike most rock albums of 1967 and 1968, in which there is a focused effort to release the material fairly soon, perhaps partly due to the quickly changing musical landscape in pop, many jazz recording sessions of 1967, did not get released until some time later, partially due to the lack of commercial interest in jazz music at that time: the six tracks that make up Demon’s Dance was recorded in a single session on Dec. 22, 1967 and not released until October of 1970.
One can readily notice a similarity between the Demon’s Dance album cover and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew cover. Bitches Brew was released by Columbia records on March 30, 1970, and reached the number one spot on Billboard’s best selling jazz albums by July 18, holding that position, on and off, for the rest of 1970. Blue Note engaged the Bitches Brew album cover artist, Marty Klarwein to provide the artwork for the album cover of Demon’s Dance, with the eye-catching result as shown above. (Note that this is just a portion of the original painting — shown fully below at the end of this post.)
The music here is particularly ear-catching, with Jackie Mac taking a step back from his more adventurous free-jazz persona, playing modern, sometimes modal, bebop partnered with a twenty-three year old Woody Shaw providing intense, focused, clear, and often beautifully lyrical trumpet and flugelhorn and a twenty-five year old Jack DeJohnette providing dynamic, propulsive percussion with support from LaMont Johnson on piano and Scott Holt on bass.
The three hard bop uptempo tracks, “Demon’s Dance”, full of energy and intensity and enriched with variety by McLean, Shaw and DeJohnette, “Boo Ann’s Grand”, an excellent composition by Shaw, and “Floogeh” are certainly solid, top-notch performances, but the other three tracks are exceptional.
Woody Shaw provides a cheerfully, affirmative bossa-nova-based composition, “Sweet Love of Mine” that sparkles and includes riveting soloing by McLean and Shaw. Cal Masey, provides the one ballad of the session, “Toyland” which showcases McLean at his reflective, thoughtful best, providing warmth and tender musicality with an appropriate introspective solo by LaMont Johnson. The album closes with Cal Masey’s particularly intriguing “Message From Trane”, a modal composition with surface similarities to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”
Both McLean and Shaw are in top form throughout the album, providing engaging solos that can be enjoyed over and again. Shaw is particularly inventive with his well-controlled, crisp, clear, solid tone that makes him one of the great jazz trumpeters of all time. This was the last of Jackie’s twenty-one albums for Blue Note (wow!!!) and the second-to-last U.S session prior to McLean’s four year break from recording and his departure to Europe. As far as I can tell, the next session after this, again pairing Jackie and Woody, has never been released — which, making an evaluation based on the merits of the Demon’s Dance album, is a notable loss to the music world.
Track listing [from Wikipedia]
- All compositions by Jackie McLean except as indicated
- “Demon’s Dance” – 7:09
- “Toyland” (Cal Massey) – 5:24
- “Boo Ann’s Grand” (Woody Shaw) – 6:57
- “Sweet Love of Mine” (Shaw) – 6:04
- “Floogeh” – 5:23
- “Message From Trane” (Massey) – 5:29
- Jackie McLean – alto saxophone
- Woody Shaw – trumpet, flugelhorn
- LaMont Johnson – piano
- Scott Holt – bass
- Jack DeJohnette – drums