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The Gene Harris Superband: Big Band Soul (1989)

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This admirable two-disc reissue encompasses two colorful albums recorded more than a decade ago by the late pianist Gene Harris and his star-laden Superband, Live at Town Hall, NYC (1989) and World Tour 1990. As one who owns both earlier albums I'd have no reason to part with any hard-earned cash for this one, but those who overlooked them the first time around may wish to take advantage of the chance to add a pair of impressive big-band albums to the storehouse at a reasonable price. The highlight — one among many, we should emphasize — on Disc 1 is Torrie Zito's high-strung arrangement of Kern / Hammerstein's "Old Man River" with absolutely ripping solos by tenor James Moody (quoting "Jingle Bells!"), trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. Trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison is showcased on "Sleepy Time Down South" and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," tenor Ralph Moore on "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," guitarist Herb Ellis on John Clayton's "Serious Grease," flautist Frank Wess on "Like a Lover," bassist Ray Brown on a Porgy and Bess medley, and the leader on Erroll Garner's "Creme de Menthe." There are two vocals by baritone Ernie Andrews, "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "I'm Just a Lucky So-and-So," two more by Ernestine Anderson ("You?re My Everything," "There Is No Greater Love"). The concert ends with a confident rendition of Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." The only problem I had with Disc 1 is that I was sent a rather poor pressing that is plagued by a number of audible glitches and brief periods of silence. I'm sure this is an anomaly and that they can't all be like that. Disc 2, on which multi-instrumentalist James Morrison plays a more prominent role (moving from the trombone to the trumpet section), was taped the following year in Morrison's home precinct, Sydney, Australia. Morrison (flugel) is featured on Thad Jones's wistful composition, "A Child Is Born," Harris on Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and the ballad "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," Smulyan on another swift road-runner, Rodgers and Hart's "Lover" (arranged by Wess). The session opens with a high-octane "Air Mail Special" and includes Brown's homage to Art Blakey, "Buhaina Buhaina," Oscar Pettiford?s bass-heavy "Tricotism" (solos by Brown and alto Jerry Dodgion), Sweets Edison's "Centerpiece," Horace Silver's "Nica?s Dream," Neal Hefti's "Girl Talk" (an intimate conversation between Harris and Edison), and two more numbers by Ellington — "Battle Royal" and "Warm Valley." Guitarist Kenny Burrell and trombonist Robin Eubanks offer eloquent testimony on John Clayton's brawny "Dear Blues," tenor Moore returns (on "Air Mail Special," "Nica's Dream"), and there are crisp statements by trombonist George Bohanon on "Dream" and (with Harris) on Quincy Jones' "Lonely Bottles." It's good to hear these albums again, and nice to have them both under the same cover. If you've not yet heard the Superband, you couldn't ask for a more rewarding place to start.

Contact: Concord Records, 100 N. Crescent Drive, Suite 275, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Web site, www.concordrecords.com

Track Listing: Disc 1 (Live at Town Hall, NYC) -- The Surrey with the Fringe on Top; Creme de Menthe; When It's Sleepy Time Down South; Our Love Is Here to Stay; I'm Just a Lucky So-and-So; Serious Grease; Like a Lover; Old Man River; Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans; Porgy and Bess medley (Strawberry Woman, I Loves You Porgy, It Ain't Necessarily So); You're My Everything; There Is No Greater Love; Things Ain't What They Used to Be (65:32). Disc 2 (World Tour 1990) -- Air Mail Special; Lonely Bottles; A Child Is Born; Buhaina Buhaina; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Lover; In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning; Tricotism; Centerpiece; Dear Blues; Nica's Dream; Girl Talk; Battle Royal; Warm Valley (61:14).

Personnel: Disc 1 -- Gene Harris, leader, piano; Jerry Dodgion, Frank Wess, alto sax, flute; James Moody, tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Ralph Moore, tenor sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Johnny Coles, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Michael Philip Mossman, Joe Mosello, trumpet; Urbie Green, James Morrison, Eddie Bert, trombone; Paul Faulise, bass trombone; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Disc 2 -- Jeff Clayton, alto sax, flute replaces Wess; Plas Johnson, tenor sax, flute replaces Moody; Morrison, trumpet, flugelhorn, Glenn Drewes, trumpet replace Coles, Mossman; George Bohannon, Robin Eubanks, trombone replace Morrison, Bert; Kenny Burrell, guitar replaces Ellis; Harold Jones, drums replaces Hamilton.

Record Label: Concord Music Group

Style: Big Band


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