Hey there everyone. How are you?
I always seem to start my staff pick off with a little too much personal information and an apology it seems, so I will not do that this week, but suffice to say the hits keep on coming.
Fortunately for me, I have records and music to soothe my soul and this week has seen me pull out an old favorite which I feel duty bound to steer you towards this week as my staff pick.
In times of stress, sadness, pain and uncertainty, we all find comfort in the familiar and with something that brings us great pleasure. There are many ways we can do this, but for us music heads, nothing beats playing a great piece of music from one of your favorite records. The record I am suggesting for you this week has been with me for over two decades now and it has never failed to hit the spot each time I hear it. I wasn’t sure what to write about this week, but had a CD playing in the car and a cut from this album came on. It sounded great as always and took me to my happy place and perhaps it may do the same for you when you hear it.
The record is by jazz pianist Les McCann and titled Invitation To Openness and was released in 1972 on Atlantic Records. My exposure to the album came during my first few months of living in New York after moving there in 1998. I can’t remember who it was that turned me on to it first, but whoever it was did me a solid. I was aware of Les McCann and had some of his other records, but as with many artists I was only just beginning to dig deeper into their discographies. I was told the record had great drum sounds on it, that it was a little trippy and had a great mood to it. That and the fact that it wasn’t expensive was enough for me and I bought it. When I got home and played it, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Perhaps still expecting more of a Soul-Jazz sound, albeit funky what I instead got was indeed a slightly trippy, spacey record with a definite mood and yes, great drums. I fell in love with it on first play and each subsequent listen keeps improving the experience. The actual record jacket itself is cool too. Thick cardboard gatefold and almost all black except for the text for artist and title, label logo and catalogue number and a photo taken by McCann of what looks like a sunset through some trees. Inside the gatefold are notes on the selections by the artist along with two essays by the producer Joel Dorn and author Ron Neal. All great stuff.
Reading the personnel list soon makes it apparent why this record sounds so good. The musicians are all legends. McCann played piano, electric piano and a Moog synthesizer that was brought into Atlantic studios especially for the recording. He is joined by Yusef Lateef on tenor sax, oboe and flute. Cornell Dupree and David Spinozza play electric guitars, Bill Salter is on bass and sitting on the drummer’s seat is none other than Bernard Purdie. So, no wonder I was told it had great drums. Filling out the sound is Ralph McDonald on percussion with Buck Clarke adding African drums. There is also a harp, and that is played by Corky Hale.
Arrangements by McCann and produced by Joel Dorn. Dorn’s credits are too long to list, but he had been producing records for Atlantic since 1963, starting with a Hubert Laws session that resulted in the hit album The Laws Of Jazz. As for this album, he writes in the liner notes that he felt Les McCann cared deeply about it and was personally involved in all aspects of its creation. He notes Les had wanted to play and record like this for a long time and that it was a shame it took him so long as the music turned out so well.
McCann’s notes on the song The Lovers, which takes up the entire first side, give you a pretty good idea of where his head was at and rather than me trying to explain, it’s best to quote the man himself.
“Once I had a dream to live and love and this dream became music. It touched all the beautiful feelings I have searched for or known. Each sound was a color, and each color was a warm feeling, and my heart kept the tempo. The musicians who have helped make this music possible have dreamed, lived and loved also. I love to listen to this music with openness and without thought or images. I turn the lights down and the music up and I find joy in the different places it takes me.”
There’s not much you can add to that is there? He said it perfectly and especially the part about the lights down low and the music up.
That track that he is describing, The Lovers, slowly builds and you must be patient and just allow the music to do its thing. Around the five-minute mark is where you’ll first be rewarded, and from that point on, you’ll be along for the ride. The music is “free,” but the rhythm section holds it down and allows the others to do their thing and in turn keeps the listener engaged. Unlike other free records that sound like the musicians pushing their instruments down a flight of stairs mixed with the sounds of honking geese, this record has a much more appealing sound. The drums we already mentioned are ace. The keyboards are dope 70s sounding and the electric guitars rocking out in a Larry Coryell style.
Side two is a touch more traditional sounding, drawing on his roots in Jazz, Blues and R n’ B music although still very funky and groovy with Les getting to have fun with the Moog synth and all the musicians getting to show what they got. Just two tracks that combined equal the twenty-six-minute side one. The songs are titled Beaux J. Poo Boo, which was the name of an album McCann made back in 1965 for the Limelight label and Poo Pye McGoochie (and his friends). Not sure who they are but they sound like they might be fun.
I would recommend this record to anyone, but especially to those that enjoy 1970s Jazz Fusion and funk. Its reputation is solid, and it is seen as a landmark album. Perhaps not super obscure to seasoned heads, but an album that continues to find fresh and appreciative ears as the years go by. You should be able to pick up a copy easily and it shouldn’t cost you much. Whenever I see one, I always try to put it into someone’s hand. My copy is a white label promo pressing which has now been played a few times but still sounds good. I should buy another copy myself at this point next time I see a nice one.
Check it out and see what you think. Don’t forget to turn down the lights and the music up. Thanks for reading and see you here next time.
Cheers - Dom
R.I.P. Betty Davis