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Pump It Up

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Even after a stroke compromised Les McCann’s ability to play piano — his first love — his determination and gloriously gritty attitude shines through on Pump It Up. Even though he is a jazzman by training, McCann has always been a funk player at heart. His feel for nasty, gutbucket funk is both ancient and strikingly modern. Without his keyboard to lead him, McCann looks to the burly, low-end playing of bassist Marcus Miller, whose instrument is upfront on “Pump It Up,” “Let It Ride (The Train),” and “Tryin’ to Make It Real,” the last of a which lifts a phrase from McCann’s most famous song (“Compared To What”) and works as a summarization of the musician’s ethos. The guest list is a reflection of McCann’s diverse sphere of influence. James Brown’s horn man Maceo Parker shows up to blow on “Funk It (Let the Music Play),” while Dianne Reeves duets with McCann on Bill Withers’ beautiful ballad “You Just Can’t Smile It Away.” The starring turn belongs to Bonnie Raitt, who is at her very best on “The Truth,” a revival of a 1964 McCann original. It’s the best gospel recording of the year, burnished by homemade ambiance.


Born: 23 September 1935 in Lexington, KY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

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....
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Pump It Up, Les McCann
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