Pump It Up
While Les McCann has always revealed a decided tendency toward the funky side of things in his playing and singing, going back to his earliest gospel-tinged soul-jazz recordings for the Pacific Jazz label from 1960-1964, the slamming \'Pump It Up\' finds him knee-deep in the funk. Under the direction of producer-composer Alan Abrahams, McCann is surrounded by a cast of young funkateers, including bassists Marcus Miller and Abraham Laboriel, drummer John Robinson, funky rhythm guitar aces Dean Brown and Paul Jackson, Jr., keyboardist Ricky Peterson and his guitar-playing brother Paul, saxophonists Bill Evans and Keith Anderson, all of whom bring something special to the table. And Les delivers with funky authority, swaggering and bragging his way through the good-time vehicles in typically bawdy fashion. As producer Abrahams explains, \'ESC Records initially came to us wanting to do something with Les. And they specifically said that they did not want any smooth jazz. So I told Les, 'All they want is the funk...let's give it to them.' After all, who is funkier than Les McCann?" Other special guests recruited for \'Pump It Up\' include Billy Preston, who plays organ on the ultra-funky \'Tryin' To Make It Real," vocalist Dianne Reeves, who joins Les for a moving duet on Bill Withers' beautiful ballad \'You Just Can't Smile It Away" and pop superstar Bonnie Raitt, who turns in a soul-searing performance on an updating of McCann's gospel-flavored \'The Truth." Maceo Parker, a charter member of James Brown's classic, funky aggregations from the early '60s, appears on one track, blowing his alto sax with typical intensity on the anthemic \'Funk It (Let The Music Play)." McCann's 45th recording as a leader comes three years after his previous outing, Pacifique, on the Music Masters label. Along the way he's had some delirious highpoints -- notably his 1969 landmark recording \'Swiss Movement" for Atlantic -- in a celebrated career that stretches back 43 years. \'This record was truly a great experience," says McCann. \'All the guys seemed glad to be a part of it and they talked about how I had influenced them earlier in their careers. Plus, they all felt free to drop in their ideas along the way. It was one of those give-and-take things in the studio. Alan and I are very pleased with the results. I'm glad to be back on the block again." Recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and mixed in Minneapolis with engineer Tom Tucker (veteran mix engineer for Prince's Paisley Park label), \'Pump It Up" is an irrepressibly slamming affair that promises to reintroduce the soul-jazz icon to the public as a revered elder of the funk. Born Leslie Coleman McCann on September 23, 1935 in Lexington, Kentucky, he grew up with a depth of feeling for music from his early connection to the church. During a stint in the Navy he won a talent contest which earned him a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show . After being discharged from service, he began accompanying singer Eugene McDaniel on piano in 1959 and formed his own trio the following year. McCann recorded frequently with his trio between 1960 and 1964 for Pacific Jazz, a West Coast label founded by Dick Bock. \'When I made my first album on Pacific Jazz, the owner of the company (Bock) said to me, 'What y'all are playing is funky!' That was the first time I had heard that term applied to music. People were calling my music funky but they also called it soul music. What I knew as soul was Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. But it really all comes from the church. It's a cultural thing from the area I grew up in, it's what we heard growing up. And I had a desire to be back in it again. I always seem to come back to the funk." Call it funk, soul-jazz or whatever, McCann's early '60s output for Pacific Jazz featured such stellar guests as organist Groove Holmes, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, guitarist Joe Pass, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, saxophonist Ben Webster and the Jazz Crusaders. After debuting on Atlantic in 1968 with \'Much Les", he scored a massive hit the following year with \'Compared To What," an urgent, politically-charged song from the \'Swiss Movement" album which caught on big with the Question Authority generation that came of age during the Vietnam War. That historic 1969 encounter with tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival. It was reissued a few years ago on both CD and video by Rhino Records. McCann's follow up to that landmark recording was 1971's adventurous \'Invitation To Openness" featuring Yusef Lateef on various reed instruments, Cornell Dupree and David Spinozza on guitars, Bernard Purdie and Alphonse Mouzon on drums and a host of other studio aces. That ambitious outing -- Les' answer to Miles Davis' \'Bitches Brew" -- was reissued last year by Label M. After continuing to record and tour through the '70s, '80s and into the early '90s, McCann's career was temporarily sidetracked by a stroke he suffered during a concert in January of 1995. After spending a month and a half in a hospital bed in Celle, Germany, he returned home to Van Nuys, California and gradually began regaining control of his motor skills. Encouraged by producer and longtime associate Alan Abrahams, McCann released the following year the album \'Listen Up!", which also featured keyboardist George Duke and saxophonist Ernie Watts. Then last year, Les' soulful cameo appearance on Bill Evans' \'Soul Insider" on ESC Records (ESC/EFA 03668-2) announced, in no uncertain terms, that he was back on his funky game. And now he takes it up a notch on the unabashedly funky \'Pump It Up\' . \'The funk was a kind of natural jacket for Les to put on," says producer Abrahams. \'And he embraced it very, very much as it was going on and was having fun with it. The idea of this album was that there was not any deep political statement here. It's about havin' some fun, do the funk and keep steppin'." Les McCann: lead vocals, piano - original recording 1964 Ricky Peterson: hammond b3, wurlitzer piano John Robinson: drums, bass track Paul Jackson Jr.: guitar, rhythm guitar Abraham Laboriel: bass Marcus Miller: bass Maceo Parker: alto sax Billy Preston: hammond b3, wurlitzer piano Bill Evans: sax Dean Brown: lead guitar, rhythm guitar Bonnie Raitt: lead vocals Dianne Reeves: lead vocals Paulinho da Costa: percussion Keith Anderson: sax Tom Saviano: alto sax Bill Churchville: trumpet.