A Tale of Two Cities – Eddie HarrisLes Is More – Les McCann
Hyena Records 9304
Hyena Records 9305
As fun as it is getting CDs for free and being a reporter on the front lines
of jamband happenings, there are risks inherent in the life of an
e-mail-accessible CD reviewer. So far, the one time I've gotten flamed has
been for offering some negative words on Keller Williams — still seems
funny to me that people could be that passionate about such whimsical music,
but apparently it is so. So far, though, most folks, including artists and
managers, seem to recognize that I approach each CD from a constructive
perspective, even if it ends up not being my cup of chowder.
So it went that one of the high-ups at Joel Dorn's Hyena Records, after
reading my rather skeptical perspective on their Cannonball Adderley and
Rahsaan Roland Kirk discs a few months ago, contacted me and sent the other
two Hyena releases. As it happens, these two discs have more of a raison
d'etre than the two I encountered before. After all, Adderley gets
recognition for being involved in some of the best small-group jazz (or
music) of the last century with Miles Davis, while Kirk's multi-instrumental
innovations get him attention. The fame of Les McCann and Eddie Harris,
though, has not spread far out of the "populist" jazz community which Dorn
seeks to celebrate and document with these releases.
Like the Adderley and Kirk discs, these two CDs can be frustratingly
slipshod: uneven sound quality, incomplete songs, irrelevant post-song
patter. However, the Harris disc in particular, culled from two club
appearances, offers enough quality jazz to compensate. The ten-minute-plus
workouts like "Chicago Serenade" and "Illusionary Dreams" display the
saxophonist's slippery, romantic style, with bebop drumming luminary Albert
"Tootie" Heath supplying a steady groove, and pianist Jack Wilson gets a
memorable feature on "Cherokee."
The McCann disc is more of a "documentary," as Dorn would put it, than a
musical offering and is rather less easy to enjoy. In the middle of the
disc we get 15 minutes without a note from McCann as Dorn documents the
pianist's penchant for taping other artists' shows, and a little later comes
the eight-minute you-had-to-be-there monologue "Bird Story." Les Is
More fares better when McCann's piano takes the spotlight on cuts such
as the Ahmad Jamal-styled "Maleah" and the early jazz/funk hit "Compared To
What" (although one should go back to McCann and Harris's Swiss Movement for
the definitive version of this "sock it to me!" late-'60s anthem).
Still, I find myself being hard on Dorn and Hyena, but let me say this: even
if these products are not entirely what I'd desire from jazz records, he and
they knew what they wanted and worked hard to get it.