Les McCann

(2010, from a Brick’s Picks column in the LA Weekly)

This Friday at LACMA the L.A. Jazz Society presents their Los Angeles Jazz Treasure award to the great Les McCann.  Even if you don’t know the name you know his signature tune “Compared to What”. Talk about a soul jazz classic, it cooks hard and is funky as hell too. Not to mention one angry tune, angry at the War mostly, but at everything else too, all the bullshit that going down in 1969. “Compare to What” quickly morphed into a Civil Rights anthem in the bitter days after the Jackson State Massacre, when “People Get Ready” seemed too quaint and optimistic for the heavier times. Jazz-wise, Les McCann laid out the tune’s funked up piano and that wonderfully pissed off vocal, saxman Eddie Harris wailed on the thing, trumpeter Benny Bailey too. You’d hear “Compared to What” on the jazz stations and the R&B stations and on the free form hippie kid stations for years afterward, slipped between angry funk and Gil-Scott Heron. For sure he got sick to death of the thing soon enough, people yelling out for it all the time, no matter what he was playing, and he played an awful lot of great music over the years. But yell it out again here…they did at Playboy, where he also appeared with tenor Javon Jackson’s quintet, and he performed a pumped up and righteous rendition, too, ten thousand voices chanting god damn it, real compared to what? Having Jackson here at LACMA is a special treat, we’ve been digging his stuff for years, he’s a brilliant player; we just love his great sense of dynamics. His own grooving take on the soul jazz thing is alive and creative, never clichéd. Dig this one people, give it up for Mr. Les McCann and this smoking band. It’s free, too.

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