It’s a sincere pleasure to review Les Is More,
not only because it brings to the public’s attention some previously unheard Les McCann live recordings, but mainly because it signifies the re-emergence of Joel Dorn And Friends, like Gene Paul, Page Simon and Kevin Calabro, not to mention the signature unbreakable Q-Packs that Dorn favors. When Label M disappeared without a warning not long after 9/11/01, lots of listeners were left stranded without the string of re-releases of great music that they had come to expect.
Dorn is back with Hyena Records this time, releasing CD’s more conservatively. More importantly, he has found yet another niche that jazz listeners will soon appreciate: the remastering of forgotten tapes that the musicians themselves stored. This technique started with Label M, in particular when Dorn and recording engineer Gene Paul restored the sound quality of some of Ray Bryant’s reel-to-reel tapes. Bryant’s Somewhere In France
was a notable success by using this technique.
In order to produce Les Is More,
Dorn had to listen to more than 500 of McCann’s personal tapes to decide what to include--over the course of six months. The result is an assortment of tracks that feature McCann’s success in entertaining audiences in live venues. Starting with "Maleah," McCann refers to the extremely popular Ahmad Jamal style of the 1960’s, and especially Jamal’s recording of "Poinciana," in an arrangement that puts Leroy Vinnegar out front with familiar bass lines while McCann extends the block chords beyond the bar lines in the midst of spare modulations.
One of McCann’s most famous recordings, "With These Hands," is included as a live performance at the Village Gate.... before
it appeared on his album, Much Les.
As Atlantic succeeded in extending McCann’s image beyond that of a jazz pianist, it becomes clear how McCann would have directed Dorn to sign up Roberta Flack, for the soulfulness of their singing styles are surprisingly similar, although the techniques, of course, vary. This CD includes a rare Roberta Flack recording of "All The Way" before she signed with Atlantic and launched her career of fame, and, one assumes, fortune as well. With the same penetrating vocal power that made her successful, Flack personalizes the song with powerful dynamics and attention-getting suspension of long tones.
Also of note is the track called "Les By Night," which actually consists of snippets of McCann’s recordings in various Los Angeles nightclubs in the late 1960’s, and including the likes of Carmen McRae, Cannonball Adderley, Stanley Turrentine and Ray Brown merely, and sublimely, jamming.
Dorn found out to his frustration that McCann ended every live performance with his famous tune, "Compared To What." So, it was only natural that Les Is More
concludes with the whipping-up-the-audience dynamism of the song, but this time without Eddie Harris. Well, in reality, 5 years before McCann and Harris recorded their famous rendition. Harris does
appear on Les Is More
on "Samia," on which Harris is more subdued than expected. Well, so is McCann. Rather than tearing things up on tenor sax, Harris instead plays behind the beat, foofing out his notes and making his interpretation a model of understatement.
More Hyena Records CD’s are on the way, thankfully. And some of these almost-never-heard tapes will make some exceptional music available for the public, thanks to the dedication of a lifetime lover of jazz, Joel Dorn.