The Late, Great Les McCann’s Never a Dull Moment! – Live From Coast to Coast 1966-1967 180g 3LP RSD Collection Is One Sweet Soul-Jazz Swan Song

Les McCann — the noted pianist/singer/composer who passed away at age 88 on December 29, 2023, just before the new year arrived — enjoyed a long, celebrated career that began in the late 1950s and continued well into the 21st century. Early on, McCann developed his own distinctive, soulful, gospel-infused take on jazz, delivered over a fruitful run of popular and oft-influential recordings issued primarily across three labels in the 1960s and ’70s — Pacific Jazz, Limelight (Mercury), and Atlantic. In fact, McCann is acknowledged as one of the driving forces of the popular subgenre known today as “soul jazz.”

McCann was even responsible for discovering no less a superstar than Roberta Flack, ultimately leading to her No. 1 smash debut LP, June 1969’s First Take on Atlantic (an album for which he also penned the liner notes). Respected by peers as diverse as Bonnie Raitt and Monty Alexander, McCann continued to record and perform live throughout his life, even after suffering a stroke in the mid-1990s.

Les McCann’s music has always made for a fun and engaging listen — but like many artists with deep catalogs like his, it is often hard to figure out where to start. Not only that, but I am continually amazed how I seem to find more albums of his that I even knew existed. For example, just this past December, I found a Pacific Jazz album called McCanna, a single LP release from 1964 that I’d never seen before anywhere. It is a fabulous outing that even blends some Latin flair into his soul-jazz brew.


But I digress. McCann’s latest release, Never a Dull Moment! – Live From Coast to Coast 1966-1967, is what I’m reviewing here today. It comes from acclaimed archival label Resonance Records, and it’s something that is no doubt exciting for fans of the artist. Produced by award-winning “Jazz Detective” Zev Feldman, Never a Dull Moment! – Live From Coast to Coast 1966-1967 is a richly rewarding 3LP set issued as a limited edition of 2,500 copies back on the Black Friday Record Store Day in late November. As many of you know, SRPs often vary when it comes to RSD releases like this one, but from a quick scan of several interweb sellers and Discogs, we found that, as of this posting, Never a Dull Moment is going for around $60 on up to nearly $90.

Here are the stats. The albums in the Never a Dull Moment! – Live From Coast to Coast 1966-1967 3LP set were mastered for vinyl by acclaimed audio engineer Bernie Grundman from original tape sources. While we are not 100 percent sure at this juncture, we do suspect there was probably some level of a digital stage employed in the production of this RSD edition — but as we’ve said many a time before, that is not a bad thing in our book, depending on the final result once you actually listen to it.


To that, some clues to this point can be found in the album itself. The hype sticker on the outer package boasts, “both recordings transferred from the original tape reels,” and the liner notes confirm, “sound restoration by George Klabin and Fran Gala.” Usually, when wording like that appears in the credits, it tends to indicate the analog recording was transferred to the digital domain for said restoration work. We’re just speculating here until we get any further direct confirmation, but it stands to reason that tapes of this particular vintage may have needed a certain amount of digital cleanup work to make them sound as good as possible by dealing with elements like noise reduction, dropouts, tape wrinkles, and other factors that can impact analog tapes of any vintage.

Again, this isn’t a bad thing from our perspective, especially if it results in an album as good sounding as Never a Dull Moment is — but we nonetheless felt it important to point this out to those of you who are all-analog purists.

Onward with the rest of the stats. The 180g, dark black, dead quiet, well-centered vinyl discs in the Never a Dull Moment! – Live From Coast to Coast 1966-1967 set were pressed by Le Vinylist in Quebec, and each disc is packed in an audiophile-grade plastic lined inner-sleeve. Never a Dull Moment also comes housed in a lovely, full-color tri-fold gatefold package. It includes an LP-size booklet with rare photos and new essays by authors A. Scott Galloway and Pat Thomas as well as fresh commentary from artists like Roberta Flack, Quincy Jones, Monty Alexander, Roger Kellaway, Bonnie Raitt, and others.


It always comes down to the music, and even McCann himself was enthused about these recordings. In the official press release for Never a Dull Moment, McCann commented, “When my manager, Alan Abrahams, told me that there were some recently uncovered recordings that have never been released before from the ’60s, I was really curious if they were any good. People were always sending me cassettes that they have come across over the years and the sound was usually [expletive]. When I was informed that these live recordings were from the Penthouse in Seattle (a cool venue), and also from the Village Vanguard in New York (a really cool venue), I held my breath . . . then I heard them, and I said ‘Daaamn!’ People who know me know that I never planned for the future, but when you deal from the heart, you have no fear and Never A Dull Moment! – Live From Coast to Coast 1966-1967 shows that beautifully.”


Documenting an interesting crossroads for the artist, this album is a fine showcase for the varied and evolving sides of McCann’s musical trajectory. Several of these performances come from multiple dates at The Penthouse in Seattle in 1966 (LP1 and LP2). And then, on LP3, performances from The Village Vanguard in New York City make their debut release on vinyl. Overall, on this 3LP set, you’ll get to hear straight-ahead jazz classics interpreted in a laid-back, introspective manner from the somewhat more aggressive soul-jazz swinger — no doubt extra-invigorated by New York’s jazz energy on that latter 1967 performance especially.

Backed by different bands, these performances all are captured in very good-to-excellent fidelity, with the NYC set sounding at times quite stellar, open, and airy. Additional DNA on that latter tape is revealed by producer Zev Feldman in the liners: “The music from The Village Vanguard was captured by Resonance’s founder and co-president George Klabin on July 16, 1967. . . These recordings of Les McCann at The Village Vanguard were recorded using a portable Crown 2-track tape recorder with an Ampex mixing console and mixed on-the-fly as the performance was happening.”


Meanwhile, the Penthouse recordings were made for the weekly radio program Jazz After Hours, and they offer a somewhat more compressed sonic palette comparatively, as culled from (as far as I can tell) monaural tapes made for broadcast on Seattle’s KING-FM back in the day.

The actual mix evolves over the course of the performances. The earliest show delivers drums that are (to my ear) just a tad too hot in the mix over McCann’s piano — but once you get used to the balance it is fine, and you can just focus on said performances. Ultimately, it is an enjoyable recording and since it can’t be remixed per se, we just have to accept it for what it is. (For additional perspective, this mix is actually a great thing if you are a particular fan of drummer Paul Humphrey, who was an in-demand session player in his own right who later played on no less than Frank Zappa’s October 1969 masterstroke Hot Rats, and he even accompanied Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders — archival recordings do circulate!)

The inclusion of the Village Vanguard disc (LP3) more than compensates for that above-noted relatively minor Penthouse sonic issue, elevating the whole collection to near-essential status. Both the fidelity — as presented in stereo, delivering a lovely sense of the club environment and the band soundstage — and the performances on those New York tapes are exemplary. Never a Dull Moment is a great-sounding album that belies its more-than-55 years of age. It is one of those recordings that sounds like it might have been recorded yesterday, even though it doubles as a total time capsule.

Some of my favorite tracks on the 1967 Village Vanguard set include the nearly nine-minute excursion on Leroy Vinnegar’s “Doin’ That Thing” (Side E, Track 3), which gets into some very cool Middle Eastern modalities at points. McCann also breaks into an extended exploration of the Bobby Hebb smash hit “Sunny” (Side F, Track 3), which McCann had previously recorded on his 1966 Limelight Records release Les McCann Plays the Hits. The performance begins with a slow-building sensual soul take on Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” (Side E, Track 1) that is just lush and luxurious.

Some of the tracks from the 1966 Seattle show are groovers too, such as the take on McCann’s 1961 soul-jazz smoker “The Shampoo” (Track 1, Side B, Track 1), which originally appeared on his 1963 Pacific Jazz LP Les McCann Ltd. Plays The Shampoo. Also, the humorously titled “Out in the Outhouse” (Side C, Track 1) doesn’t appear to have been released previously on any of McCann’s albums (at least not under that song title).


As far as the Sound rating goes for Never a Dull Moment, please recognize that the final number we’ve given this release is an averaging of the multiple recordings included in the entire 3LP package. Individually, I would give The Village Vanguard LP a 10 for both Music and Sound, whereas the two Penthouse LPs are not quite as stellar-sounding as the Vanguard tapes, so I give that one an 8. So, we arrive at an overall cumulative rating for the entire set as 9 for both Music and Sound, ratings that we felt were more than fair — and, frankly, not too shabby for recordings that were never fully intended for commercial release in the first place.

While Les McCann has sadly physically departed from this realm less than a month ago, his music certainly lives on, and this new release acts as a poignant swan song reminder that will no doubt continue to inspire listeners and players alike. Whether you are a deep completist or a curious newcomer to Les McCann’s musical universe, Never a Dull Moment! – Live From Coast to Coast 1966-1967 is an excellent post-RSD spin courtesy the good folks at Resonance Records that is quite a worthy addition to the man’s recorded legacy.

Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.



180g 3LP (Resonance Records)

LP 1

Side A
Recorded at the Penthouse Jazz Club in Seattle, WA on January 27, 1966

1. Blue ’N’ Boogie
2. Could Be
3. The Grabber
4. Yours Is My Heart Alone

Side B
Recorded at the Penthouse Jazz Club in Seattle, WA on January 27, 1966

1. The Shampoo
2. Wait For It
3. This Could Be The Start Of Something Big

LP 2

Side C
Recorded at the Penthouse Jazz Club in Seattle, WA on February 3, 1966

1. Out In The Outhouse
2. A Night In Tunisia
3. Da-Da

Side D
Recorded at the Penthouse Jazz Club in Seattle, WA on February 10, 1966

1. Lavande
2. There Will Never Be Another You
Recorded at the Penthouse on August 15, 1963
3. (Back Home Again In) Indiana

LP 3

Side E
Recorded at The Village Vanguard, New York on July 16, 1967

1. Love For Sale
2. I Can Dig It
3. Doin’ That Thing

Side F
Recorded at The Village Vanguard, New York on July 16, 1967

1. I Am In Love
2. Goin’ Out Of My Head
3. Sunny
4. Blues 5
5. The Shampoo


HiFiMark's picture

Didn't want the price of the vinyl so sprung for the CD set.


Musically, sonically, experientially.

Lively, dynamic, you-are-thereness and the music is free, joyous, and everything good about piano trio jazz played by masters of their craft.

I have no doubt the LP's are even better sounding but the CD's are killer good.

Another winner from Zev Feldman and his crew.