Album of the Week: Les McCann’s Layers (1973)

Another winner from Les McCann! In March, I covered Invitation to Openness, a standout fusion record. Where Invitation was a showcase of swirling, dreamy fusion with extended jams, Layers is often more upbeat. Recorded a year after Invitation, Layers is nothing short of a percussive triumph. Buck Clarke, Ralph McDonald, and Donald Dean join once again on percussion, this time with the addition of Jimmy Rowser on electric bass, bass violin and percussion. The beat on opener “Sometimes I Cry” is so legendary as to provide the backing track for Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”.

“Sometimes I Cry” is a good indicator of the unique sound you get on Layers: McCann’s ARP synth takes center stage in what is essentially an extended vamp (with glorious results). Along with his Clavinet and electric piano, McCann carries the melodies with his synth sounds, still a new frontier back in the early 70s. Anyone who’s heard Marvin Gaye’s I Want You and knows “After the Dance (Instrumental)” will recognize that ARP sound, bright as the midday sky and free as a bird (“Let’s Play” is especially portentous of “After the Dance”).

Layers really kicks up the groove on “Dunbar High School Marching Band” (in which McCann imitates a marching band’s horn section with synths!) and “Harlem Buck Dance Strut”. But I don’t think Layers can be categorized as straight jazz-funk. Its uniqueness lies in tracks like “Soaring”, again evocative of flight, the multi-layered synth/clav sounds creating an atmosphere that is both freeing and a bit melancholy. Layers is a versatile record that is relaxing enough for a Sunday morning and deep enough to avoid any sort of dated cheese.

Listen to Layers here.

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