This collaboration between LES McCANN and GERALD WILSON is a natural one and I think this album represents a highlight in Les' recording career. Les' playing here, as always, is positive and extroverted and is showcased wonderfully against the backdrop of Gerald's exciting band.
It occurred to me one night, several months ago, while I was watching Gerald Wilson and his orchestra during one of their engagements at The Lighthouse, that if Gerald had chosen the media of motion pictures to express himself rather than music, he would surely have become a great director in the tradition of Kramer, Preminger, or Stevens.
It should be known that I made this seemingly disjointed evaluation of Gerald during my seventh Cutty Sark at The Lighthouse. Often when I make such statements in this frame of mind they don't make a great deal of sense to me the following morning but the comparison between Gerald Wilson and great motion picture directors still seems valid to me.
A director must do many things well. The director assembles the cast, brings his ideas to a script that has been selected, and uses his artistic judgements with the script and the actors to best achieve the results he wants. When the product is ready for the public it has been the director who is most responsible for its success or failure.
Similarly, Gerald does all things well. He is a craftsman in every way. He hand-picks the musicians carefully (a glimpse at the personnel listing on this album will assure you that Gerald hasn't settled for second best), he selects the material (most of which he composes and arranges), and then he bolsters the band and the audience with his own enthusiasm and exuberance. Gerald is a total musician. He touches all bases, and like a good director he is the man in charge.
Although Gerald has paid his dues for many years, his reputation has become more widely known in the past few years. He played in the trumpet section of the great bands of Lunceford, Basie, Ellington, and Gillespie, arranged and composed, for all of these bands, and led his own successful big band in the 40's, but even with his great success he left it all behind to continue studying music. His self-imposed exile was ended when he formed a big band that was recorded by Pacific Jazz and released in 1961. ("YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT" PJ-34). Many were able to hear this exciting, fresh band for the first time.
Gerald's success has spread almost entirely word of mouth. Because of the economics of traveling across the country with a big band, Gerald's dates have been almost entirely restricted to California. Yet the news of Gerald's music spread rapidly after his first release and he soon became a best-selling artist in areas that had never seen him. Also Gerald has not had the television exposure that some of the older big bands have enjoyed, but a glance at the jazz polls shows him right at the top along with Basie, Ellington, and Herman (and with a sound that is the most modern of the big bands).
Watching Gerald's orchestra in performance is always a great pleasure for me because I'm watching a man who clearly enjoys what he's doing and loves his work. He seems to enjoy the musicians in his band as much as the audience and when one takes an excellent solo, Gerald sometimes leads the applause.
The one characteristic that Gerald has that makes him a rarity in jazz these days is his ability to communicate with an audience. It's this very characteristic that he has in common with the man he shared this record with.
The success of Les McCann began as almost an underground movement. Les enjoyed a small but devoted following in Southern California and when his debut album was released on Pacific Jazz ("THE TRUTH" PJ-2) the support was just as loyal but the cult grew in numbers. His first album was an immediate success and Les has built a record of success that is almost unequalled among jazz musicians today.
An aspect of Les McCann that has often been overlooked is his compositional abilities. Les is the composer of all but one of the selections in this album.
"Bailor The Wailer" is an especially exuberant composition and performance. Les dedicates this to Elgin Baylor of the Los Angeles Lakers (who might be described as a hard-bop basketball player). And there's the beautiful "Kathleen's Theme" (arranged and conducted by Jimmie Haskell). "Could Be" has a good Basie feeling to it.
The arrangements with the big band on this album are by Gerald Wilson based on ideas by Les McCann.
Les is another man who is well known for doing many things well. This album is a testimony to his writing ability and his playing. It also showcases his regular trio (Victor Gaskin on bass, Paul Humphrey on drums) one of the most successful groups in jazz and constantly in demand around the world.
Like the two personalities involved in this record, "McCANN / WILSON" shouts with enthusiasm and exuberance. No hard sell is needed to convince you that you've just made an excellent choice in picking up this album. The names LES McCANN and GERALD WILSON speak for themselves. Listen.
-- Les Carter
KBCA Radio, Los Angeles