Les McCann – Pump It Up

Les McCannPump It Up
Les McCann
(ESC Records – 2002)
by Ray Redmond

Les McCann is one of the old-school funky-jazz cats. Think Oscar Brown Jr. or Maceo Parker (who makes an appearance on “Funk It (Let The Music Play).”) and you get the general idea. “Pump It Up” starts out with the sizzling title track, written by keyboardist Ricky Peterson and his guitar-slinging brother Paul (who also play), McCann’s characteristic gravel-voice laying down the story-lyrics . Buckshot & LeFonque is an obvious play on trumpeter Branford Marsalis’ funky alter-ego. Part of the quality comes from the cast of jazz funkateers that includes bassists Marcus Miller and Abraham Laboriel, drummer John Robinson, guitarists Dean Brown and Paul Jackson, Jr., the Petersons, saxophonists Bill Evans and Keith Anderson and of course, the man, Les McCann.

Paulinho da Costa jams rhythm to Bill Evans funky sax on Evans’ tune “Let It Ride (the Train)”. The groove on the infectuous “I Can’t Stand It” is more on the Charlie Earland B3-train, with some very funky Marcus Miller bass licks fueling the engine. In a surprising departure from the funky train to this point, Dianne Reeves joins Les for a moving duet on Bill Withers’ beautiful ballad “You Just Can’t Smile It Away”. McCann comes back Ultra funky on “Trying To Make It Real”, featuring Billy Preston on the organ. Then slows it down again as Bonnie Raitt turns in a soul-searing performance on an updating of McCann’s gospel-flavored “The Truth.” Variety is indeed the spice of life, eh?

With “Daylight” McCann again puts the funky train in high gear and rolls it to the end of the CD through “Funk It (Let The Music Play)” with Maceo whaling on his alto sax and a reprise of “I Can’t Stand It”. This is McCann’s 45th recording as a leader, and I think one of his strongest in recent (or distant) memory. The cast is a blend of old master and young jazzers with a feel for the funky side of things and it comes off very well. You really should pump this one on your system.