Invitation To Openness
If Les McCann’s successful 1969 album Swiss Movement (which we’ve written about) was meant to soundtrack a Saturday night, then 1972’s album Invitation to Openness was the soundtrack to a lazy Sunday morning. Swiss Movement was a live collaboration with singer Eddie Harris, and its lead song, “Compared To What,” was an unexpected success, an album that blended McCann’s trademark jazz sound with Harris’ soulful singing.
Invitation to Openness, however, is a different sort of record. Consisting of three very long tracks, it too is an album that establishes a definite mood. Side one consists of “The Lovers,” a twenty-six minute piece. The song begins with gentle keyboard twinkles and unhurriedly builds up to a very steady, smooth groove. Musically, it’s unlike much of what has come before, with the exception, perhaps, of John Coltrane’s “Ascension.” Unlike that piece—which critics often derided as sounding like a band warming up—“The Lovers” is a much more defined piece, with the drums providing a structure that Coltrane’s masterpiece lacked. “The Lovers” is an ahead-of-its-time number that never sounds futuristic, which deftly keeps the song sounding fresh, forty-three years later.
Side two is a much more conventional-sounding affair, consisting of two long pieces. The first, “Beaux P. Poo Boo,” is an uptempo jazzer, propelled by some gorgeous flute playing by (insert flautist here) and some funky keyboards. “Poo Pye McGoochie (And His Friends)” starts off mellow, but quickly turns into a scorching, relentless jazz-funk fusion, alternating between slow, quiet moments and loud, frenetic jams, its pulsing rhythms a joy to behold, making one want to hit repeat, if only to keep the feeling going just a little bit longer. One could imagine both pieces going on for another twenty minutes without ever becoming tedious—a sign that McCann was making magic. (This reissue also features a bonus track, a live recording of “Compared to What” that features Buddy Guy, but the track feels unnecessary and out of synch with the groove of the rest of the album.)
Some have labeled Invitation to Openness as a precursor to trip-hop, ambient, and electronica, most especially “The Lovers.” While I might not necessarily go that far, it is, however, an innovative album that is ahead of its time and one that has not lost its appeal in the four decades since its release.
It is also worth noting that McCann has published a volume of his photography, also entitled Invitation to Openness (Fantagraphics). Photography has been a lifelong passion, and he has taken his camera with him on his adventures. We’re privileged to get a glimpse into an exciting life, with intimate and offhand photographs of jazz legends, celebrities, politicians, and exotic sights and places. There are great shots of such notables as Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Ray Charles. McCann’s fly-on-the-wall approach creates an intimacy that gives his work a tenderness and vibrancy that can only be documented by a fellow musician, and McCann’s commentary is insightful and often humorous—such as his comments to Nina Simone’s kids about potentially becoming their stepfather. Moreover, there’s a hint that more books might be coming—and here’s hoping, as the collection found in Invitation to Openness prove McCann is an unrecognized master of the art of music photography.