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Les McCann and Eddie Harris Swiss Movement (Atlantic) — Call it serendipity. Pianist McCann and saxophonist Harris had each played sets with their respective bands at the Montreux Jazz Festival in June 1969. They then decided they’d like to play a set together, recruiting trumpeter Benny Bailey, who was living in Europe, and making use of McCann’s seasoned trio mates, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Donald Dean. The recording of their impromptu performance produced an instant soul-jazz classic.
With Vinnegar and Dean laying down the groove foundations, tunes such as Gene McDaniels’ “Compared to What,” Harris’ “Cold Duck Time” and McCann’s “You Got To Get It in Your Soulness” all but define soul jazz. McCann could boogaloo with the best, lighting the fuse with his swaggering funk and roof-raising gospel inflections, while Harris breathes hellfire on tenor. Bailey is a real revelation, his explosive blasts adding another dynamic voice to the proceedings and recalling the bright staccato of Hugh Masekela.
Fifty years later, the performances sound as fresh and vital as when they were recorded. McCann’s exhortatory vocals on “Compared to What” caused quite a sensation, with socially pointed lyrics that ring true today: “President he’s got his war/Folks don’t know just what it’s for/Nobody gives us rhyme or reason/Have one doubt they call it treason.” Championed by McCann, Roberta Flack would record the song, too, on her 1969 debut album. And while Miles Davis soon after changed the conversation with the spacey funk of Bitches Brew, McCann and Harris’ sophisticated down-home boogie remains a timeless example of spontaneous groove-making. —Bob Weinberg