Swiss Movement

Les McCann & Eddie Harris

Atlantic Records, 1969

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Over the years I've noticed that Daily Vault Founder Christopher Thelen and I invariably open our jazz reviews with the same "I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about here" mea culpa. And the truth is, we don't - it's one of the handicaps of growing up suburban white bread in the years spanning 1975 to 1990. Jazz simply wasn't part of our teenaged musical vocabulary.

Thankfully, that has not prevented me in my adult years from enjoying fabulous jazz albums like Swiss Movement.

Les McCann arrived at the 1969 Montreux Jazz festival in Switzerland as a pianist and bandleader with a reputation for soulful, funk-infused jazz. For his part, Eddie Harris was already well-known for his rippling, eloquent sax phrasings. Their impromptu teaming at the festival, joined by noted trumpeter Benny Bailey, generated one of the great live jazz albums of its day, an all-to-brief set of five tracks that simply bubbles and froths with the pure joy of playing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It's amusing now to have "Compared To What" plastered across the airwaves as part of Coke's latest advertising campaign, but if you want the *real* real thing, you have to come here for it. McCann's take on it, besides featuring the only vocals on this album, is simply smoking-hot. Never mind the dated '60s lyrics; in McCann and Harris' hands, this thing has a groove you could drive a truck through, and Harris and Bailey's horns wail triumphantly between its choruses.

Harris and especially Bailey shine even brighter on "Cold Duck Time," a Harris composition the band literally learned the day of the show. The smooth swing of the basic melody doesn't take long to devolve into dueling solos, Harris' sax alternately juking and soaring before Bailey comes in and simply blows the crowd away with a trumpet solo that starts out suave and stylish and builds to a controlled frenzy before falling back again.

McCann's piano work is consistently rich and effervescent, nowhere moreso than on the aptly-named "You Got To Get It In Your Soulness," where his alternately playful and lyrical solo carries the first half of the song. Harris' smooth, masterful solo is again the perfect complement, segueing into a blistering trumpet run from Bailey and a closing full-out jam. The remaining two tracks ("Kathleen's Theme" and "The Generation Gap") are equally entertaining.

Swiss Movement truly caught lightning in a bottle, turning out to be the singular highlight of not one, or even two, but three distinguished jazz players' careers. I'll be the first to concede that every well-studied jazz fan out there already has this album. But for those of you who, like me, are relative beginners, I can't say it loud or often enough -- if you are the least bit curious about what great live jazz sounds like, go get this disc. NOW.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


I just rescued this album at a garage sale. And, aside from the opening track, had never heard any of it before. This is exciting good stuff and not a bad place to start for those wanting to dip their ears into the jazz-waters!

© 2003 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.