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Les McCann / The Mitchell-Ruff Trio: 20 Special Fingers

Jim Santella By

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The twenty fingers in the title for this double reissue CD come from two exciting piano trios of the 1960s. Both Les McCann and Dwike Mitchell offer blues-based, gospel influenced piano storytelling on their Atlantic albums Much Les and The Catbird Seat, respectively. McCann was at the peak of his career then, still using an acoustic piano and always infusing a groove into his work. Mitchell and Ruff started out at about the same time as McCann: the mid-‘50s. Bassist Willie Ruff and pianist Dwike Mitchell left Lionel Hampton’s band early on to perform mainstream jazz as a duo; Ruff also plays the French horn (not on this album). With over a dozen albums and celebrated tours that include Russia and China, the duo held to acoustic mainstream fare. McCann, on the other hand, later expanded into territory that emphasized his singing in an electronic environment, leaning more toward R&B pop music and farther away from mainstream jazz.

Recorded with strings on July 22-24, 1968 in Atlantic’s New York studios, Les McCann’s project reflects cool acoustic piano jazz with a captivating beat. The music, remaining enjoyable and tasteful throughout, features excellent acoustic trio interplay from drums, bass, and McCann’s piano. Unlike the synth strings we are faced with in today’s market, the leader’s backup string section offers a rewarding and irreplaceable timbre.

Recorded July 21, 1961 before a congenial audience at the Playback Club in New Haven, Connecticut, The Catbird Seat presents an inspired piano trio and wholesome improvisation. Unfortunately, the club’s piano was rather sour that night, affecting pitch and tone quality. It’s one of the major factors that led artists such as Les McCann to adopt the electronic keyboard for good and to stop relying on club managers to keep their instruments in good shape.

Track Listingfor Much Les : Doin’ That Thing; With These Hands; Burnin’ Coal; Benjamin; Love For Sale; Roberta.

Collective Personnelfor Much Les : Les McCann- piano, vocal on "With These Hands"; Leroy Vinnegar- bass; Donald Dean- drums; Willie Bobo- timbales; Victor Pantoja, congas; Theodore Israel, Warren Laffredo, Richard Elias, Winston Collymore, Emanuel Green, Noel DaCosta- violin; Selwart Clarke- viola, concertmaster; Harvey Shapiro, Kermit Moore, Ron Carter- cello; William Fischer- string section director & arranger.

Track Listingfor The Catbird Seat : The Catbird Seat; Street of Dreams; So In Love; Con Alma; Gypsy in my Soul; I’ll Remember April.

Personnelfor The Catbird Seat : Dwike Mitchell- piano; Willie Ruff- bass; Charlie Smith- drums.


Title: 20 Special Fingers | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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