Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Crates & Crates: Compared To What

Les McCann & Eddie Harris- Compared To What

Went record shopping today a few days ago, and picked up a few really great things. I found what has been a holy grail of sorts for me since I've had a record player, The Swiss Movement by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. It has what is hands down my favorite soul-jazz song, "Compared To What". I first heard a few seconds of this song in Casino. Just this short burst of Les McCann shouting "GODAMMIT! Tryin' to make it real compared to what!" to kick off some scene with Robert Deniro walking through the Casino. It's literally like five seconds before the song fades out, and I was captivated by the anger, frustration, and soul in those five seconds. I didn't hear the full song until years after once we hit the mp3 age. And damn, it's even more impressive than those first few seconds I heard. The lyrics almost read like a lost Dead Kennedys record, ranting against nearly every facet of society, even taking on Christianity, which for the time must have got them their fair share of hassles.

As I was reading over the liner notes to the record, I realized that this song was actually written by someone else beside Les McCann. I had always assumed that this song was half improvised, the anger and vitality of the song is so real that I just assumed that it came up from McCann's boiling guts. It turns out that the song was written by Eugene McDaniels. Eugene McDaniels was a lite r&b singer who soured on America somewhere in the sixties and turned deeply angry and political. He never recorded this song himself, as far as I've been able to find, though he did give it to Roberta Flack to record at around the same time as this recording. Flack's version mellows out the anger, and while good, has nothing on McCann and Harris' version.

So I decided to do some research on McDaniels, he had two albums in the late sixties and was fired by Atlantic reportedly on the say-so of Spiro Agnew. The two albums Outlaw and Headless Heroes of The Apocalypse. They're semi-funky and pretty damn good, from what I've heard of them so far. The lyrics are great, and you can easily draw lines from "Compared To What" to songs like "The Lord Is Black" and "Supermarket Blues". It's too bad that there isn't a contemporaneous version of "Compared To What" by McDaniels. Though I think it really would be hard to top McCann's.

The rest of The Swiss Movement is a great, raw soul-jazz album. McCann doesn't sing outside of "Compared To What" which is unfortunate. The album was recorded live at a jazz festival in Switzerland. McCann and Harris just got together and played without any practice, they just got together and busted out this amazing live album. McCann's piano chords chop out dramatic tension while Harris' saxophone bleats out little solos that he's making up off the top of his head. And in comes the ringer, Benny Bailey. A Cleveland expatriate living in Switzerland, who inserts these amazing trumpet lines into songs whose style he's never even played before. He was more of a "serious" musician, playing for the Swiss radio orchestra. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

I'm extremely happy to have finally gotten my hands on this record. I've spent years looking for it and have finally gotten my hands on what I've been looking for here. And I was not disappointed at all. And as with all good albums worth their salt, this has sent me on a new quest, to get my hands on those two Eugene McDaniels records. And probably some more McCann records with his singing.

Check back tomorrow or Monday for some stuff from this warped Bob Dylan bootleg I found for a dollar a while back.

Also bought:
Badfinger- Magic Christian Music
Paul Butterfield Band- s/t
NRBQ- At Yankee Stadium

No comments: