Jackie McLean's "Bluesnik" is one of his best straight ahead bop sessions that he recorded for the Blue Note label. A few years after this session was made, Jackie ventured into a realm on the fine line between bebop and the avant-garde/free jazz of the 60s with albums like "Let Freedom Ring", "Destination Out" and "One Step Beyond". This album, however, was around the peak of Jackie's explorations that were solidly within the bop framework.
If you like Jackie McLean, classic Blue Note hardbop, or just innovative improvisational music by musicians who play with fiery passion restrained by the strength of their intellect - then this is the album for you.
"Bluesnik" features 6 songs that all have a "bluesy" mood even though they are not all technically blues in terms of their structure and harmonics.
Jackie McLean is his typical inspired self (did the man ever turn in an subpar effort?) and his solos show a penchant for the blues and convey a very deep visceral and emotional impact. The album features a supporting cast of Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Kenny Drew on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and Pete LaRoca on drums.
I disagree with the other reviewer who stated that Freddie Hubbard doesn't really perform well on this session. While Freddie Hubbard certainly turned in more inspired performances elsewhere - that is certainly not a negative reflection of his playing here. Rather, it is a reflection of his legendary performances as a sideman on such albums as "Speak No Evil", "Blues and the Abstract Truth", and "Maiden Voyage".
There is nothing particularly progressive about this music for its time - it is just high quality straight ahead jazz that will both mesmerize you on your first listen and adquately reward repeated listenings.
One word of caution, Jackie McLean is known for his sharp intonation on the alto sax. In my opinion, this is an integral part of his style which helps account for the uniqueness of his sound on the alto and for the emotive impact of his playing. However, for some listeners Jackie's intonation can be a distraction from the music. "Bluesnik" does feature some of the sharpest intonation in Jackie's discography.
If you are the type of person who insists on listening to soloists who play the saxophone with textbook intonation then you may get annoyed with Jackie's playing on "Bluesnik". However, if you are open to sounds that are not "technically" perfect but nonetheless perfectly fit the musical purposes of the artist employing them, then give "Bluesnik" a try. You won't be disappointed.