LES MCCANN — Les McCann & Eddie Harris : Swiss Movement

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LES MCCANN - Les McCann & Eddie Harris : Swiss Movement cover
4.66 | 8 ratings | 2 reviews
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Live album · 1969

Filed under Soul Jazz


A1 Compared to What 8:18
A2 Cold Duck Time 6:31
A3 Kathleen's Theme 5:45
B1 You Got It in Your Soulness 7:08
B2 The Generation Gap 8:45


- Les McCann / piano, vocals
- Eddie Harris / tenor sax
- Benny Bailey / trumpet
- Leroy Vinnegar / bass
- Donald Dean / drums

About this release

Atlantic ‎– SD 1537 (US)

Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland in June 1969

Thanks to EZ Money for the addition and snobb for the updates


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I’ve read one reviewer’s work that described ’Swiss Movement’ as the one jazz record that may be the best way to win over new jazz fans. There is a lot of truth to that. This wasn’t the first jazz record that I owned, but it’s the first one that I recorded to 8-track so I could blast it out of my car stereo along with my Santana and Chicago tapes. Although this is an acoustic group, this music really rocks and its fun to turn it up loud.

Its well known that this album is basically an unrehearsed jam session in which saxophonist Eddie Harris and trumpeter Benny Bailey join Les McCann’s trio for a one time performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Taking chances and working without a net can often bring out the best in a musician and these guys are bristling with adrenaline as they romp through these tunes.

The album starts off smoking hot with Les McCann’s ‘Compared to What’ which features great angry sarcastic political lyrics that make you want to shout along with every verse. Benny Bailey, who usually plays dry intellectual be-bop, cuts loose on this one with some hilarious old school shout-blues wails on his trumpet. This is followed by the smooth groove of Harris’ Cold Duck Time’. These two tunes back to back make for an incredible one-two punch.

Although its hard to follow the high energy of those two openers, later in the set tunes like ‘You Got in Your Soulness’ and ‘Generation Gap’ almost bring back that initial euphoria. This isn’t the most subtle or challenging jazz album out there, but it is one great party record with excellent playing from every member
Let me just say up front that this is my favorite live jazz album of all time. It’s as close to perfection as it gets for me. Recorded at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival on June 21, 1969, it has more than stood the test of time and I still get goosebumps on every occasion of placing it on my turntable for a spin. The amazing back story is that this particular lineup of musicians had only the barest of rehearsals before performing in front of what was arguably the most critical/discerning of audiences in that era and still didn’t just please the crowd but wowed them most impressively. The whole record is like lightning in a bottle, a moment in mortal existence that thankfully was captured on tape for generations yet unborn to hear and marvel over.

The band, consisting of McCann’s basic piano trio (Les with his tight rhythm section of Leroy Vinegar on upright bass and Donald Dean on drums) joined on stage by the fabulous Eddie Harris on tenor saxophone and the fiery Benny Bailey on trumpet, immediately sweeps you right off your feet with their captivating cover of Gene McDaniels’ “Compared to What” and no ensemble has ever done it better. Their irresistible groove propels this track like a like a toddler’s heartbeat and the song tools along like a fine-tuned Porsche on new pavement. Les’ commanding vocal is delivered with what I’d call amused consternation and you believe every word he sings to be gospel. Each solo emanating from McCann, Harris and Bailey is an absolute joy to drink in and when the group leaps out of the murky melee at the end of the ascending bridge it is exhilaratingly electric. This is greatness without apology.

After a brief explanation/warning to the people in the seats that they were about to tackle the brand new “Cold Duck Time” by Eddie Harris having only seen the sheet music for the first time that day, they ease into the number like they’ve played it nightly since childhood. Its unbelievably catchy melody line is as delightful as an ice cream cone on a hot summer afternoon and is the ideal platform for these virtuosos to soar to the heavens. There is an audible gasp of wonder after almost every ride voiced loudly by the adoring crowd and you can hear happy grunts and yelps escaping uncontrollably from Les throughout. This is the result God was looking for when He invented music.

McCann’s sultry “Kathleen’s Theme” is next and it offers the listener a much-needed change of pace after the bliss experienced during the first two barnburners. On this one Harris really gets to stretch out for over five minutes as he weaves a captivating web of notes with his golden horn while the trio glides seamlessly underneath him. “You Got it in Your Soulness” follows and it is one happy camper of a tune that hops and skips like a feisty jackrabbit on the lam. Once again the underlying groove is to die for and you get a sense that every person in the room was nodding in time wearing an ear-to-ear smile as Les, Eddie and Benny exhorted their individual instruments to exceed their limits and fly freely into the stratosphere. The crowd can’t believe what’s happening to them.

The album ends with McCann’s “The Generation Gap” and it has more angles to it than a fickle woman. Both Harris and Bailey follow the song’s intriguing key changes like bloodhounds and there’s not even a hint of shyness when they step into the limelight. They know it’s their opportunity to shine and they don't let it slip by. What a treat it is to hear great musicians like this who are so tuned in and aware of what’s going on around them. Pure, unadulterated magic through and through.

This a jazz album that will thrill people who aren’t sure if they even like jazz. For the enthusiast or aficionado of the genre, this is nothing short of aural ambrosia and should be played often to remind ourselves of how healing/refreshing music can be for the soul. I’m just glad this recording exists. It has gotten me through many a sad spell of discouragement and rejuvenated my spirit every time. It’s a very special album, indeed, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

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