5 Songs

EDITORS’ NOTES

Though it was precipitated by the massive success of its predecessor, Swiss Movement, Much Les is the real breakthrough record of McCann’s career. It was the beginning of his studio collaboration with producer Joel Dorn, who would become framer, benefactor, and enthusiastic friend to McCann’s music for the rest of his life. McCann had always possessed an exceptional ear and musical panache, but Dorn updated the pianist’s sound for the '70s, making it deeper, darker, and juicier. Much of the album’s dark velvet atmosphere can be credited to the rhythm section of bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Donald Dean, augmented here by string arrangements courtesy of William S. Fischer. Though the album contains several slabs of the boogaloo-inflected funk upon which McCann had built his reputation —“Doin’ That Thing,” “Burnin’ Coal” and “Love for Sal” are all amazing — the centerpiece is undoubtedly “Benjamin,” a score for an opium-den funeral. The introductory figure is so dank and ominous that Mobb Deep looped it in 1995 as the basis for their crime rap anthem “Right Back At You.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

Though it was precipitated by the massive success of its predecessor, Swiss Movement, Much Les is the real breakthrough record of McCann’s career. It was the beginning of his studio collaboration with producer Joel Dorn, who would become framer, benefactor, and enthusiastic friend to McCann’s music for the rest of his life. McCann had always possessed an exceptional ear and musical panache, but Dorn updated the pianist’s sound for the '70s, making it deeper, darker, and juicier. Much of the album’s dark velvet atmosphere can be credited to the rhythm section of bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Donald Dean, augmented here by string arrangements courtesy of William S. Fischer. Though the album contains several slabs of the boogaloo-inflected funk upon which McCann had built his reputation —“Doin’ That Thing,” “Burnin’ Coal” and “Love for Sal” are all amazing — the centerpiece is undoubtedly “Benjamin,” a score for an opium-den funeral. The introductory figure is so dank and ominous that Mobb Deep looped it in 1995 as the basis for their crime rap anthem “Right Back At You.”

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8:30
6:38
5:46
6:35
8:53

About Les McCann

Les McCann reached the peak of his career at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival, recording "Compared to What" and "Cold Duck Time" for Atlantic (Swiss Movement) with Eddie Harris and Benny Bailey. Although he has done some worthwhile work since then, much of it has been anticlimactic.

McCann first gained some fame in 1956 when he won a talent contest in the Navy as a singer that resulted in an appearance on television on The Ed Sullivan Show. After being discharged, he formed a trio in Los Angeles. McCann turned down an invitation to join the Cannonball Adderley Quintet so he could work on his own music. He signed a contract with Pacific Jazz and in 1960 gained some fame with his albums Les McCann Plays the Truth and The Shout. His soulful, funk style on piano was influential and McCann's singing was largely secondary until the mid-'60s. He recorded many albums for Pacific Jazz during 1960-1964, mostly with his trio but also featuring Ben Webster, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Blue Mitchell, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Pass, the Jazz Crusaders, and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

McCann switched to Limelight during 1965-1967 and then signed with Atlantic in 1968. After the success of Swiss Movement, McCann emphasized his singing at the expense of his playing and he began to utilize electric keyboards, notably on 1972's Layers. His recordings became less interesting to traditional jazz fans from that point on, and after his Atlantic contract ran out in 1976, McCann appeared on records much less often. However, he stayed popular and a 1994 reunion tour with Eddie Harris was quite successful. A mid-'90s stroke put him out of action for a time and weakened his keyboard playing (his band began carrying an additional keyboardist) but Les McCann returned to a more active schedule during 1996 and was still a powerful singer. His comeback was solidified by 2002's Pump It Up, a guest-heavy celebration of funk and jazz released on ESC Records. ~ Scott Yanow

  • ORIGIN
    Lexington, KY
  • GENRE
    Jazz
  • BORN
    Sep 23, 1935

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