The idea goes like this. The hip and jazz-loving Joel Dorn and his folks as 32 Jazz have decided to introduce a series whereby they put out two albums by different artists that are somehow related in one package. This two-disc set brings together two Atlantic classics, the previously available Much Les from Les McCann and the long out-of-print The Catbird Seat by the Mitchell-Ruff Trio. So it tells us in the opening liner notes, McCann had expressed his affection for Dwike Mitchell's piano work on one of Dorn's radio shows back in the '60s, and clearly that influence is given palpable credence after listening to both of these sets back-to-back.
Recorded in 1969, Much Les was McCann's first effort for Atlantic and it offers a well-rounded sampler of the pianist's many talents. McCann's trio includes bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Donald Dean, plus the added percussion of Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja on a few cuts. Much should be said too in regards to William Fischer's excellent arrangements. Obscure and unheard of in recent times, Fischer's previous achievements had been his arranging work for Nat Adderley's two superlative A&M/CTI sessions, You, Baby and Calling Out Loud.
The opening "Doin' That Thing" cooks at a slow boil with rumbling strings underneath and Leroy Vinnegar's bass walking us home. Fischer's use of the strings here and elsewhere is inspired and certainly not akin to the Montovani variety. McCann the vocalist steps forward next with a lush version of "With These Hands." The party really starts to heat up though with "Burnin' Coal," a gospel-tinged original with a "Compared to What" vamp and a vocal percussion section. Rounding things out are the relaxed and pretty originals "Benjamin" and "Roberta" and a funky take on "Love For Sale." While one gets the idea that commercial considerations were at play here, there's few albums in McCann's catalog that really give us the varied picture of the pianist that this one does.
Disc two features one of the rarer titles from the Atlantic catalog. Pianist Dwike Mitchell and bassist Willie Ruff teamed up as a duo in 1956 and recorded two albums for Epic before moving on to Roulette where they would cut five more sets. They never became anything close to a household name then and they still are only known today by a precious few jazz cognoscenti. Possibly hoping for greater rewards, the pair hooked up with Atlantic in 1961 and added a drummer to make it a trio and released two albums, The Catbird Seat and After This Message. The former is the topic of discussion here and the drummer present is Charlie Smith on this live recording from a club in Connecticut.
The inspiration that McCann gathered from Mitchell is easily heard by even the most novice of listeners. Ahmad Jamal's influence on Mitchell is also suggested by several slow and smoldering numbers. The title track is one of the highlights of the set, a stately blues line that finds the pianist building a climax towards the end of the performance with a sustained series of double-handed tremolos. "Street of Dreams" is given a brief, but pretty turn. "Gypsy in My Soul" is the only real up tempo number here, with "I'll Remember April" treated atypically as a ballad. Much of music in general reminds me of John Lewis' trio dates for Atlantic of about the same period. Like Lewis, Mitchell doesn't impress with fancy chops but chooses to sustain a mood and tell a story. In the end, The Catbird Seat proves to be a minor gem that fortunately was saved from what could have been years of obscurity in the vaults.
Track Listing: Disc One: (Les McCann)- Doin' the Thing, With These Hands, Burnin' Coal, Benjamin, Love for Sale, Roberta
Disc Two: (Mitchell-Ruff Trio)- The Catbird Seat, Street of Dreams, So in Love, Con Alma, Gypsy in My Soul, I'll Remember April
Personnel: Disc One: Les McCann, piano; Leroy Vinnegar, bass; Donald Dean, drums; Willie Bobo, timbales; Victor Pantoja, congas; Ron Carter, Winston Collymore, Noel DaCosta, Richard Elias, Emanuel Green, Theodore Israel, Warren Laffredo, Kermit Moore, Harvey Shapiro, strings; William Fischer, arranger/director
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.