Les McCann

Pump It Up

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Still trying to recover from the effects of a devastating 1995 stroke, Les McCann relaxed and put out a playful jazz/funk album with a cast of dozens that in some ways harkens back to some of his Atlantic sides from the 1970s. Unlike his other post-stroke albums, he doesn't play any keyboards here, leaving them in the hands of Ricky Peterson, with an emphasis on the Hammond B3. Rather, McCann is content just to sing and rap -- again, a throwback and fallback to records made a quarter-century before. At 66, McCann sounds considerably different -- older and a little shakier on the ballads, but still sly and willing. The grooves are OK in a minimally updated '70s funk manner, but the material, coming from a variety of sources, is rather ordinary as a whole. The guest celebs come in profusion to help out: singer Dianne Reeves sits in on the ho-hum Bill Withers big ballad "You Just Can't Smile It Away," Billy Preston pumps some swampy rhythm from his Wurlitzer electric piano and B3 into the semi-autobiographical "Tryin' to Make It Real," and "Funk It" is dominated by Maceo Parker's staccato alto sax and the acrobatic bass of Marcus Miller. The most poignant passage comes when the elder McCann sings a new lyric over an LP dub of his younger self's piano trio recording "The Truth," from the Pacific Jazz days, with Preston's soulful B3 and Bonnie Raitt on hand to alternate on vocals. It's almost like they're sharing a private moment in McCann's living room.

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