11 Songs

EDITORS’ NOTES

Les McCann’s return to the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1972 brought to a close a cycle that began in 1968 with Swiss Movement, McCann’s hit live album with Eddie Harris. With the release of Layers in 1973 he graduated to another plane of electronic discovery. The album documents McCann’s love affair with the ARP synthesizer, a machine with an infinite number of sonic possibilities. In the liner notes to Layers, McCann wrote that his goal was to be the orchestra he heard in his head. Throughout the album one can hear the keyboardist stretching to imitate the sounds of woodwinds, brass, strings and even electric guitar — the groaning feedback-like blasts of “Let’s Gather” are reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s work with Band of Gypsies. While his band keeps the songs grounded in gritty funk, McCann conjures an astounding array of shapes and colors and textures. Layers might be the most generous of all McCann’s albums, if only because it gives as much entertainment to the listener as could be contained on a slab of vinyl. The album is at once the ultimate psychedelic light show and the pinnacle of stoned-soul cool, and the songs refuse dullness even after repeated listenings.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Les McCann’s return to the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1972 brought to a close a cycle that began in 1968 with Swiss Movement, McCann’s hit live album with Eddie Harris. With the release of Layers in 1973 he graduated to another plane of electronic discovery. The album documents McCann’s love affair with the ARP synthesizer, a machine with an infinite number of sonic possibilities. In the liner notes to Layers, McCann wrote that his goal was to be the orchestra he heard in his head. Throughout the album one can hear the keyboardist stretching to imitate the sounds of woodwinds, brass, strings and even electric guitar — the groaning feedback-like blasts of “Let’s Gather” are reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s work with Band of Gypsies. While his band keeps the songs grounded in gritty funk, McCann conjures an astounding array of shapes and colors and textures. Layers might be the most generous of all McCann’s albums, if only because it gives as much entertainment to the listener as could be contained on a slab of vinyl. The album is at once the ultimate psychedelic light show and the pinnacle of stoned-soul cool, and the songs refuse dullness even after repeated listenings.

TITLE TIME
5:22
1:13
0:52
6:06
5:56
5:55
0:35
3:43
4:26
1:54
8:02

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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