Atlanta-based pianist Joe Alterman pays tribute to the iconic Les McCann on his new trio album.

The pair’s friendship has lasted more than a decade. They’re not only separated in age by more than half a century, but they’re also separated by geography: McCann is in a medical rehab facility in Los Angeles, while Alterman left New York to return to his native Atlanta six years ago. But since their paths first crossed in 2012, “barely a day has passed that we haven’t chatted,” says Alterman.

The new album Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe features bassist Kevin Smith and drummer Justin Chesarek on an 11-song set of material spanning McCann’s storied career.

The recording pulls compositions from the acoustic swing of the Les McCann Ltd. trio, the gritty funk of his partnership with tenorman Eddie Harris, and his pioneering yet undersung electric years that garnered admirers in Frank Zappa and A Tribe Called Quest.

“I love every era of Les’s career,” Alterman says. “I have a soft spot for the early Les McCann Ltd. albums, when he was playing piano and swinging his ass off. But I chose my favourite songs from every era. I don’t think a lot of people know how great a composer or pianist Les was.”

McCann himself writes in the album’s liner notes: “[Joe’s] music is from the soul. It’s real and it makes you feel joyous and happy… Knowing him is one of the great moments in my life and I’m so thankful. He makes me smile every day.”

Here’s the track listing:

  1. Gone On and Get that Church
  2. Someday We’ll Meet Again
  3. Could Be
  4. The Stragler
  5. Beaux J. Poo Boo
  6. Samia
  7. Ruby Jubilation
  8. It’s You
  9. Dorene Don’t Cry
  10. Big Jim
  11. Don’t Forget to Love Yourself

Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe is out Aug. 11, 2023.