Blues March. West Coast Pianist Gene Harris averages about one release per year. The bluesmeister chooses appropriately to close the century and millennium with a live recording, the venue where he dons his best face. Recorded at Seattle’s Jazz Alley (hence the disc title) in 1998, Harris continues his trend of using his daughter Niki as a guest vocalist and Brother Jack McDuff on the Hammond B-3. For earlier evidence of this trend, check out 1996’s In His Hands (Concord 4758) and 1997’s Down Home Blues (Concord 4785).
Harris adds two reeds to the mix on Alley Cats, but not just any two. Charlie Haden gave Ernie Watts time off from Quartet West to play this gig and Red Holloway enlisted for the ride. It does not take long for things to heat up. The first pinnacle occurs after the opening rave “Put It Where You Want It” and the smooth ballad, “Magic Lady”. Then things become almost white hot. Harris leads his bunch into a half time “Blues March” that absolutely rocks during the solos. Niki Harris shines appealingly on “You’ve Changed”, “Guess Who”, and “Please Send Me Someone to Love.” But mixed up among these is the second pinnacle of the disc, Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here”. From Gene Harris’ relentlessly funky intro to the end, this piece burns down the rest of the house.
Count On Gene Harris... Gene Harris is a national treasure because, like Junior Mance, Monty Alexander, and Count Basie, he has an unparalleled grasp of the blues. On Alley Cats he displays this grasp amply along with a funkiness of Horace Silver spliced with Oscar Peterson.
Two Down Beat s ago a short piece revealed Mr Harris in renal failure awaiting a kidney transplant. This danger gives this critic pause. A treasure like Gene Harris must be protected and nurtured. I for one wish him the best.