As Les McCann says in the liner notes to the Omnivore Recordings reissue of his classic 1972 Atlantic release, Invitation to Openness, “I love to listen to this music with openness and without thought or images. I turn the lights down and the music up, and I find joy in the different places it takes me.” He is talking about “The Lovers,” the 26-minute rhapsody that filled the “A” side of the original long playing record, but it might be just as applicable to the whole of this soulful extravaganza.
“The Lovers” was improvised throughout. McCann had some melodic lines and some bass lines but he left the musicians to take the music freely where they would. And with a cohesive ensemble that had spent some time getting used to each other in rehearsals, he came up with a free-form gem that avoids the kinds of congenital cacophony that turns off so many to free jazz. This is not to say that the music lacks bite, it takes the listener who accepts the invitation in the right spirit to many places, never substituting the pretty for the true.
McCann, of course, plays piano and synths on the album, and he is joined by Yusef Lateef on tenor sax, oboe, and a variety of other winds. David Spinoza plays guitars, along with Cornell Dupree on electric guitar. Corky Hale plays harp. Jodie Christian is on electric piano, Bill Salter on electric bass, and Jimmy Rowser is on bass. Drums and percussion are in the hands of Bernard Purdie, Al Mouson, and Donald Dean. William “Buck” Clarke is credited with African drums and percussion and Ralph McDonald, percussion.
The rest of the album consists of a 13-minute electronic revisit to “Beaux J. Poo Boo” which McCann had recorded acoustically in 1965 and a 12-minute take of “Poo Pye McGoochie.” The reissue adds as a bonus track, what is perhaps McCann’s best known song, a live version of Gene McDaniels’ “Compared to What” from 1975 which features the great Buddy Guy on guitar.
Invitation to Openness is one of those albums that speaks not only to jazz enthusiasts, it is one of those albums that will bring a smile to all lovers of intelligent music. At a time when record companies are trotting out album after album from their back catalogs not always with an ear to the quality of the music, Invitation to Openness is an album you won’t want to miss.
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