Soul-jazz pianist Les McCann is best remembered for his 1969 collaborative recording at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Eddie Harris, ‘Swiss Movement’, but his own work predates that by a good decade and included other musical partnerships, notably with singer Lou Rawls on the ‘Stormy Monday album, as well as with Blue Mitchell, Joe Pass, Stanley Turrentine and Ben Webster. This excellent value for money two CD set captures an earlier live incarnation of McCann with his trio at the beginning of the 1960s for Pacific Jazz records. McCann has always had an ear for catchy commercial numbers and scored some early career hits that became juke box as well as radio hits. These included the title track to the first album here, ‘Plays the shout’. However, he is a good deal more than a mere hit maker and his gospel-tinged piano has graced some of the standard repertoire from Duke Ellington to Gershwin, imbuing it with new meaning. His interpretation of ‘A foggy day’ is at once a refined and stylish reading and develops into a medium paced blues number. Elsewhere McCann delivers a masterful rendition of ‘On Green Dolphin St.’ that compares favourably with the Gene Harris and the Three Sounds version on Blue Note.
If the first album was largely confined to covers of the great American songbook, then by the second live album the pianist was more confident in his own compositional prowess and something of the exuberant, showmanship quality is showcased here and this would earn him a long-term loyal audience. The album, ‘Les McCann in San Francisco’ is notable for the inclusion of four tracks not originally available on the 1960 vinyl and this was recorded at the Jazz Workshop. A strong set is brought to a climax with quality numbers such as ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and the gospel-infused, ‘Gone on a get that church’.
Collectively, the three albums contain all of the music recorded by McCann and the trios on 16 and 17 July 1960. These albums have been available at various times separately, but this is undoubtedly the best environment to hear them in their totality and on vinyl the Pacific Jazz albums are not easy to finds in Europe in contrast with McCann’s later Atlantic offerings. A twenty page booklet sheds plenty of light on the musician with a fascinating interview that reveals how much McCann was indeed influenced by gospel music. From his early hits, only ‘The truth’ is missing on this mini anthology of his work. Otherwise a fine place to supplement the more famous albums hitherto referred to within.