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Les McCann: How's Your Mother?

Robert Spencer By

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"How's Your Mother?" is a live date from 1967 that has lain in the can from then to now - not because there is anything lacking about it (quite the contrary!) but as a testament to the cornucopia of great music that was lying around everywhere in 1967, so that Trane's Interstellar Space (and around a hundred others) didn't see the light of day until the Seventies, Alfred Lion over at Blue Note was writing to Dexter Gordon that some of his most monstrously swinging music wasn't up to snuff, and Les McCann could record a magical live date like this one that would go unnoticed until blessed by the kind ministrations of Joel Dorn and 32 Jazz.

Skeptical? Just check out the ringing "Doin' That Thing," an original from bassist Leroy Vinnegar, who along with drummer Frank Severino makes up McCann's trio here. Note the power and versatility of McCann's touch, such that he can pound the keys with as much inexorable intensity as McCoy Tyner in those contemporary Coltrane dates, and then drop to a whisper and the most delicate of embroidery without breaking a sweat or the sunniness of his mood.

Or exhibit B: consider how McCann takes raw material as tragically schmaltzy as the pop hit from those days, "Goin' Out of My Head," and invests it with a gentle, wry swing and, toward the climax, something approaching gospel grandeur. A grandeur that remains, invested with portent, for the Latin-tinged opener to "Sunny," on which McCann and the rhythm men grow as ruminative and majestically melancholic as Erik Satie in a swingier mode.

On a more straightforwardly sunny side is the jaunty "Blues 5," the straight-out "I Am in Love," an energetic romp, and a delightfully high-gloss "Love for Sale." On the latter track and "Doin' That Thing" there's a bit of vocalese, apparently from McCann himself, but it's hardly Jarretian enough to get in anyone's way.

The title comes from the brief and joky last track, "The Shampoo," on which the group asks the title question. But nowhere does Mr. McCann, or Mr. Dorn, or anyone tell us what he's doing standing with then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey on the cover. No matter. Humphrey probably knew great swinging grooves when he heard them. This is another in a string of live dates (Bird and Diz with Mingus; Coltrane and Dolphy at the Village Vanguard; Monk with anybody, anywhere) that makes me sure I was born too late. Don't miss it.

| Record Label: 32 Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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