In New York

Les McCann Ltd.

Pacific Jazz / Capitol, 1989

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


This one had an aura of inevitability about it. Having established Les McCann and Stanley Turrentine as two of my favorites among the relatively modest stable of jazz artists with whom I’m familiar, it was only a matter of time before I began tracing their extensive catalogs backwards in search of an intersection of their talents. And here it is: a live album credited to Les McCann Ltd., showcasing McCann’s band in a December 28, 1961 live performance at the Village Gate in New York City, with Turrentine sitting in on tenor sax.

Truth be told, credits aside, Turrentine feels like the real star of this show, delivering his characteristically nimble, fluid lines up front while McCann and his sharp combo sail along behind him. Opener “Chip Monck” barrels along at a double-time pace with Turrentine sending a flood of skittering notes over the locked-in rhythm section, punctuated by fanfare blasts from trumpeter Blue Mitchell. We’re four and a half minutes in before McCann breaks in and takes a solo of his own; when he does, it’s immediately apparent that this is a younger McCann than the one many of us are most familiar with from the iconic my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Swiss Movement album. He’s less focused here on melody and more on speed and aggression, seemingly provoked by the challenge of playing off against a showman like Turrentine. (I’d love to see video of this performance!)

Next up, “Fayth, You’re…” starts out with McCann strumming the strings inside his piano, before Turrentine takes over with a slow, bluesy, gorgeous sax line, supported by subtle accents from Mitchell’s muted trumpet. Herbie Lewis (bass) and Ron Jefferson (drums) offer the gentlest of backing, making it feel almost like the sax is dueting with McCann’s restrained piano.

McCann steps to the forefront with “Cha-Cha Twist,” opening with a sassy piano line that’s followed by an equally sassy trumpet bit from Mitchell before Turrentine take his turn, adding a deep soulfulness to the melody. The whole arrangement has a playful feel that keeps things lively until Mitchell comes back in at the end to help wrap things up.

The highlight of the remaining three live tracks is the cleverly titled “A Little 3/4 For God & Co.,” wherein Turrentine delivers a spectacular opening solo, only to be matched minutes later by McCann’s equally impressive reply, with a couple of juking jams mixed in between and all around. “Maxie’s Changes” and “Someone Stole My Chitlins” more or less repeat this pattern, with McCann and Turrentine pushing one another in the best possible way.

These six tracks, totaling 43 minutes of superb live jazz, are supplemented on this CD release by a pair of studio cuts from the previous year, featuring the same Lewis-Jefferson rhythm section plus Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and, on his “One More Hamhock Please,” Curtis Amy on tenor sax. These cuts swing pleasantly enough, and Hutcherson is a marvel, but they can’t match the fire and pure soulfulness of the McCann-Turrentine-Mitchell combo.

In New York is a fine example of two young bucks in the process of earning their soul-jazz stripes, matching wits and licks and delivering a genuinely memorable show.

Rating: B+

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© 2015 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Pacific Jazz / Capitol, and is used for informational purposes only.