Les McCann

Live at Shelly's Manne-Hole

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By the time this pianist and bandleader cut this live album in the mid-'60s, he had already been putting out sides recorded in concert for half the decade. The track record presented by this pile of sizzling piano trio sides proves Les McCann is the man when it comes to playing well in concert, from every understanding of that word from accuracy to zest, stopping along the way at both musicality and outrageousness. The last word connects with an indication of time and place that should always be an aspect of live recordings. The location of a Los Angeles nightspot is less important than the times and the fact that they were a'changin'. This was the '60s, so you have song titles such as "That Was the Freak That Was," a reference to both a popular satirical television show as well as half the young people walking by on the street. This was also a period when chops really mattered, so the live recording comes from one single night and is not the result of some kind of careful editing marathon. This is also Les McCann, a guy who is open-minded about how to attract attention, posing inside a manhole for the cover art and kicking off the set with a composition entitled "She Broke My Heart (And I Broke Her Jaw)," a violent notion that might be downright offensive to certain listeners but is also part of a philosophy of naming compositions in which the gimmicky, attention-getting titles have absolutely nothing to do with the music. In this he may have influenced Frank Zappa, yet the subject of the cover photography is a whole lot more interesting. Apparently McCann emerged healthy and unscathed after his encounter with the manhole, which is more that can be said for other performers attempting to stage posed shots of a similar nature. One of the singers from Nashville Pussy is said to have badly burned the inside of her thighs trying to pose on top of a steam grate in Memphis, TN, while Western swing bandleader Hank Gonzalez sprained his thumb attempting to pry up a manhole cover in a McCann copycat maneuver. An orthopedist might not be necessary following an attempt to copy McCann's piano style, yet still many have tried but few have succeeded in even getting close to his sense of dramatic dynamics. The superb rhythm section of Victor Gaskin on bass and Paul Humphrey on drums works beautifully with the pianist, whether the material comes from the original bag or is a standard. "I Could Have Danced All Night" is a tremendous performance, combining aspects of a mainstream jazz nature with a to-the-edge understanding of, for example, the way the rhythm section in John Coltrane's groups was playing at the time. As with all McCann efforts, moderate use is made of vocalizing, leaving most listeners hungering for more. This album is one of the best from this artist's early acoustic days.

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