Les McCan - "Layers" (4 Men With Beards 2001, 4M107, originally released 1972 on Atlantic Records)

From Aural Innovations #20 (July 2002)

By the early 1970s, technology brought many innovations to all aspects of music multi-track recording techniques, analog Synthesizers, and a myriad of effects devices quickly became standard for advancing and creating new works that could not be developed without using these new ideas.

Chicago Pianist Les McCann was one who experimented with the new technology, after having recorded numerous LPs in the "Funk Jazz" direction, getting out a number of million-selling releases with Saxophonist Eddie Harris, and penning tunes like "Compared to What", which quickly became a standard in the both the Funk Jazz and R & B realms.

"Layers" was released by Atlantic Records in 1972, and seems to have been an attempt to use multi-tracking to "Orchestrate" McCann's laid back keyboard styles. However, the result is an overblown mishmash of the familiar funk of the "Dunbar High School Band" and "Harlem Buck Dance Strut", with the forgettable fluff of "Sometimes I Cry". The numerous keyboard parts clog what are essentially Funk vamps that are toe tapping but trite, adding an air of pretensions and trendiness made commercial by laying on new technology for its own sake.

Other players are used on a number of the tunes, and although an incredibly capable roster (Buck Clarke: Percussion, Congas…Ralph MacDonald: Congas, Percussion…Donald Dean: rums…Jimmy Rowser: Electric and Acoustic Bass) of seasoned session players, even their handiwork cannot save these tracks, as there is no wishing away the insipidness of the massed keyboards. McCann and producer Joel Dorn would go on to refine the ideas and techniques displayed here, but this LP was half-baked when it appeared in 1972; I find it interesting that it would attract the interests of the contemporary "Acid Jazz" community enough to be reissued. Unfortunate, as there is much more music that emerged during this era that would have made for more interesting listening!

For more information you can contact 4 Men With Beards c/o Runt LLC; PO Box 2947; San Francisco, CA 94126.

Reviewed by Doug Walker

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