Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Les McCann: Talkin' Verve (1998)

The Tanuki lived in St. Louis for a couple of years around the turn of the century.  He lived a few blocks from the barely-remarked-upon (at the time) ruins of Gaslight Square.  I don't get out much, don't go to many shows, but I was aware of St. Louis's respectable, honorable traditions in jazz, blues, r&b;  I used to walk to Gaslight Square and imagine.  I went to the Scott Joplin house and wondered why it seemed so deserted, when it should be a mecca of American music. 

It was the only time in my adult life when I've listened to radio on a regular basis.  I can't stand commercial radio, and I can't stand too much talk, so NPR is out.  But St. Louis had two excellent music-oriented public stations.  One was the inestimable KDHX, with blues, bluegrass, Sunday morning gospel, obscure psychedelia, Eastern European ethnic musics, and all sorts of other tasty stuff.

The other was WSIE, beamed in from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.  This was jazz, all the time, and while sometimes it leaned to the easy-listening, I found myself listening to it in the car a lot.  And I fell in love with one of their DJs:  LaVerne Holliday, whose name suggests a cross between LaVerne Baker and Billie Holliday, of course, and whose voice and on-air persona were just as silky, sexy, and soulful as the name promised.  Holy moly. 

She used to play this one Les McCann tune all the time.  An up-tempo thing with a stomping, bounding beat, honking horns, stomping piano - I used to crank it up every time I heard it.  But I only ever heard it while I was driving, and so I never got the chance to write down the title.  For ten years now I've been trying to figure out what it was and what album it's on - I've listened to samples of every likely Les McCann tune on iTunes, on youtube, and never found it.  Shit.

It's not on this album.  But that's alright, because it's good Les McCann anyway.  It draws from records he made for Limelight between 1964 and 1967.  It does have "Compared To What?" on it, although evidently this isn't the most famous version.  The one on here is an up-tempo, poppy-but-gritty studio version from 1966.

Speaking of crosses-between, McCann is what you'd get if you added McCoy Tyner to Ramsey Lewis and divided by two.  He can play r&b pop-jazz piano as funky as you please, but then he'll throw in hints of abstraction, of too-lush-to-be-believed moodiness, of advanced jazz.  Plus, he sings beautifully.  The formula may not be an improvement on Tyner, but it sure is on Lewis, and so there you go:  listen to some Les McCann.


Matt said...

Another big plus for this album: its cover isn't as hideously dated as the other Talkin' Verve releases.

Tanuki said...

Is it too early to be nostalgic for late-'90s graphic ideas? 'Cause I actually think most of the covers are pretty cool. Dated, sure, but I like them...

Matt said...

I won't disputare your gustus, but personally I can't stand 'em. The Buddy Greco one is just super-hideous. Whoever approved it was, if not history's greatest monster, surely jazz history's.

Actually even the series title "Talkin' Verve" is grating and twee, to my ears. I hate it when jazz labels try to talk at me all hip and stuff. You're just the label! Your job is to make the coolness of the artists more apparent, not obscure it with a bunch of finger-snapping pseudo-daddy-o nonsense. (Inconsistently, I do have some affection for fossilized period pieces like the "THE NEW WAVE OF JAZZ IS ON IMPULSE" slogan.)