As part of Concord Records’ programme to release classic recordings on hybrid Super Audio CD (SACD) comes At Last , a 1990 session that finally realized pianist Gene Harris’ wish to record with tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. For fans of mainstream jazz that leans to the West Coast sound, this is a fine record that swings comfortably; safe, but full of life.
Harris, who has released over thirty-five recordings as a leader and over seventy as a sideman, has an easy-going style that owes much to Oscar Peterson but is less rambunctious. Hamilton, who emerged in the ‘70s as one of the few young saxophonists who wasn’t lured in by the fusion movement, has a similar number of recordings as a leader and well over a hundred as a guest, including work with Charlie Byrd, Ruby Braff, Rosemary Clooney and Woody Herman. He combines the swing of Zoot Sims with the warmth and sentimentality of Ben Webster’s more romantic side.
Guitarist Herb Ellis, who has recorded well over a hundred albums in a long career that has included work with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Coleman Hawkins and Stan Getz, is a remarkable player with a rich dark tone and formidable chops. Bassist Ray Brown, who graced literally hundreds of recordings with legends including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday and Charlie Parker, was no less of a giant himself when he sadly passed away in 2002. His robust tone and impeccable time made him the first call bassist for artists too many to count. Drummer Harold Jones, who has worked with artists including Ernestine Andersen, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan, has a relaxed sense of swing that makes him the perfect choice for this set of mainly standards.
Together the quintet demonstrates an effortless ability to swing; as much felt as heard, they bring a grace and elegance to the material. Brown’s “Sittin’ in the Sandtrap” may be simple stuff, but Brown’s relentless yet relaxed walk and Jones’ subtle shadings provide an ideal vehicle for Hamilton, Harris and Ellis to strut. “After You’ve Gone” is an up-tempo burner that features especially nimble work from Hamilton, while the light bossa groove of “The Lamp is Low” exposes the more tender side of his playing. Milt Jackson’s “Blues for Gene” gives Brown a rare chance to solo, demonstrating his typical lyricism and broader sense of time; Ellis plays just behind the beat, delivering a solo that is perfect in construction; Harris’ solo comes from Peterson by way of Art Tatum.
This group is not necessarily about a daring sense of adventure or moving things forward; what it is about is a relaxed and pleasantly engaging sound that fits comfortably and entices with its familiarity. An inspired mainstream performance with exceptional remastered sound, At Last is a fitting addition to Concord’s continuing series of reissues.
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Personnel: Gene Harris (piano), Scott Hamilton (tenor saxophone), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Borwn (bass) Harold Jones (drums)