Les McCann: The Openness of Layers

Les McCann Invitation to Openness. Atlantic; 1971
McCann Layers. Atlantic; 1974

Newly-electrified American pianist Les McCann employed Latin percussion and woodwinds for the lengthy workouts of his 1971 release, Invitation to Openness. Side one is solely comprised of “The Lovers”, a twenty-six minute jam in G-major where the oboe lines of Yusef Lateef shine before the wah-wah interjections of guitarist David Spinozza. “Beaux J. Poo Boo” makes for a feisty rhythmic showcase, with the fluid fills of drummer Alphonse Mouzon trading off with the handiwork of percussionist Ralph McDonald. McCann himself finally takes center stage on “Poo Pye McGoochie (and his friends)”, pinching out cosmic lines of synth that would tickle Zawinul or Hancock with envy.

McCann opted for a tighter approach on his 1974 release, Layers, which scaled back the jams to focus more exclusively on his compositions and keyboard playing. Though the two sides of the original LP were subtitled “Songs from Boston” and “Songs from My Childhood”, the music actually alternates between two reoccurring themes across both sides.

Coming first is the tranquil “Sometimes I Cry”, a Rhodes sketch thematically bested by the rising tides of “Soaring (at Dawn)”; later recapitulated on the flipside with “Lets Play” and “Soaring (at Sunset)”. Dividing that softness is a heavier theme unveiled on this album’s key-stacked centerpiece, “The Dunbar High School Marching Band”, which soars atop a chromatic riff that recirculates in the funkified “Harlem Buck Dance Strut” and the cosmified “It Never Stopped In My Home Town”.

The cover to Layers depicting the eye of a speaker glowing red at the core – is a most befitting visual accompaniment to the music contained within.


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