Second Movement

Les McCann & Eddie Harris

Label M, 1971

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


“Soul-jazz” is how the powers that be have categorized the Swiss Movement album that captured keyboardist/vocalist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris live at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival and produced the hit single “Compared To What.” Now that I’ve finally heard Second Movement, the follow-up studio album that the pair collaborated on two years later, I’m feeling ready to binge on soul-jazz the way the wife and I just did on Six Feet Under. There’s just something tremendously winning and dynamic about the way albums like these combine the urban funk of early ’70s soul music with the free-form explosiveness of that era’s jazz.

It of course helps to have a world-class combo making the music. McCann is a phenomenal keyboard player with some serious groove in his veins, and Harris an amazing showman on his sax, generating thundering squalls of sound that are a thing to behold.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opener “Shorty Rides Again” is an immediate highlight, with Harris blowing frenetic figures over a dense layer of soul-funk laid down by McCann (who mostly sticks to his beloved Fender Rhodes electric piano on this album), guitarist Cornell Dupree and the rhythm section of James Rowser (bass) and Donald Dean (drums)  Seriously: if this track doesn’t make you snap your fingers and tap your feet, it’s time to check your pulse.

“Universal Prisoner” reminds a bit of “Compared To What” in that its social-consciousness lyrics can feel dated at times, but there is also a kind of timeless integrity to this soul-brother-telling-it-like-it-is number. McCann’s husky vocals lead the way for much of the track, with Harris waiting in the wings to cut loose during the later solo section and closing jam. The gospel-tinged “Carry On Brother,” despite being a Harris composition, mostly features McCann for the opening four of its seven minutes, before Harris and a chorus of background vocalists (notably featuring Cissy Houston) busts in to deliver a feverish, juking closing section.

“Set Us Free” takes a more contemplative turn, featuring McCann and Harris in a gentle, steady dance that gradually builds, becoming more nimble and more playful with every stanza until they’re into a full-on jam by minute seven, with Harris wailing high above the steaming bed of funk laid down by McCann and the rhythm section. McCann lays down a smoking solo of his own over the course of the next two minutes before Harris rejoins him at the fade. McCann’s “Samia” closes things out with a slow, somewhat lounge-y Latin shuffle that’s pleasant enough, but, in choosing pretty over fiery, slumbers more than it soars.

Second Movement might not scale the majestic heights of Swiss Movement, but it’s an eminently worthy companion document showcasing Harris and McCann’s partnership in a studio setting. It was also their last full-length collaboration—perhaps because, as Joel Dorn describes in the 2000 CD reissue’s liner notes, the two were always a mismatched pair, McCann loose, goofy and spontaneous while Harris was “serious as a bad x-ray.” Whatever the interpersonal dynamics, once the tape rolled, these two made some genuine musical magic together.

Rating: B+

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© 2014 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 Label M, and is used for informational purposes only.