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Les McCann – Invitation to Openness – Omnivore Recordings

Les McCann – Invitation to Openness – Omnivore Recordings OVC -114 (1972/2015), 56:44 [4/19/15] ****1/2:

Also – Invitation to Openness: The Jazz & Soul Photography of Les McCann: 1960-1980 – Photos by Les McCann, written by Pat Thomas – ISBN: 978-1-60699786 – Publisher: Fantagraphics Books 

(Les McCann – piano, electric piano, Moog synthesizer; Yusef Lateef – tenor sax, oboe, flute, pneumatic flute, plum blossom and temple bells; David Spinozza – guitars; Cornell Dupree – guitar; Corky Hale – harp; Jodie Christian – electric piano; Bill Salter – electric bass; Jimmy Rowser – bass; Bernard Purdie – drums and percussion; Al Mouzon – drums and percussion; Donald Dean – drums and percussion; William “Buck” Clarke – African drums and percussion; Ralph McDonald – percussion)

Back in 1972, when Les McCann originally released Invitation to Openness, it had a profound effect on my early jazz education. I had been enraptured by Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, and now Les McCann was entering the territory of electric instrumentation, layering of grooves, use of synthesizers, and a heady brew of rock and funk grooves. By including Yusef Lateef, Les also added Eastern motifs. Beginning with the incredible “The Lovers,” which at over 26 minutes filled an entire LP side, and following on the flip side with “Beaux J. Poo Boo” and “Poo Pye McGoochie” (dig those titles), Les was moving in new directions with the times, heading into relatively uncharted waters with both feet. Arranged and conducted  by Les, and produced by Joel Dorn, this groundbreaking CD reissue has been a happy trip to revisit. A special bonus cut included on the CD is a 1975 live recording in Germany with guest guitarist, blues great, Buddy Guy, on Les’ iconic, “Compared to What?”

This CD brims with a swirling stew of energy, and sounds as fresh today as it did over 40 years ago to a new convert to fusion and electrical rock/funk/ beats. Pat Thomas has done a superb job producing the reissue, and the remastering done at Lurssen Mastering is first rate.

Les McCann-BookAs exciting as having the reissue back for fans of Les, what is even more eventful is a book of Les’ photographs from 1960-1980, soon to be released from Fantagraphics. It is 200-pages long, and is complemented by essays by noted writers, including McCann’s manager and intimate friend, producer, Alan Abrahams. The book was curated by Pat Thomas.

McCann, in his inimitable way, comments on musicians and issues of the day in a brutally honest fashion. Les demands honesty and a “no-bullshit” life affirming attitude from friends and colleagues. His photographs help illuminate perhaps the most influential generation in our lifetime, from 1960-1980. Les was there to document in photos and commentary the cultural, historical, and musical changes both in the US and in Africa (as experienced in a trip to Ghana for the Soul to Soul concert/movie).

It is more than evident in reading Pat Thomas’ interview with Les in the book that Les is an intensely curious, provocative renaissance artist both musically and with his photographs and painting. Few photo books cover such a wide range of interests ranging from politics to sports, even including photos of “regular folk” whose expression and activity interest him. Covering a range of personalities from Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King, Jr. to basketball great, Bill Russell, Les was everywhere in his musical travels, hanging with Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor, and being backstage with Miles, Basie, and Cannonball. Les did not “suffer fools gladly” and does not spare criticism of the famous (i. e. Nina Simone). Reading between the lines, it is clear that there is so much more to Mr. McCann than his historical body of brilliant music making. With the purchase of his new book, jazz fans get the opportunity to appreciate the “invitation to openness” that is provided by this gifted artist. Don’t miss out on this opportunity…

Tracklist: The Lovers, Beaux J. Poo Boo, Poo Pye McGoochie (and his friends),  and bonus track, Compared to What (Live ’75)

Reviews —Jeff Krow

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