Gene Harris is one of my all-time favorite jazz pianists. A founding father of the early soul-jazz movement, Harris plays with the elegance of Oscar Peterson, the funkiness of Horace Silver, and the bluesy feel of an old boogie-woogie master. Critics haven't always taken to Harris, mainly because his music is so damn accessible. But to my mind he's one of those rare artists who makes complex music sound infectious.
Down Home Blues is an enjoyable release pairing Harris with like-minded B-3 organist Jack McDuff. The title track features a suitably gritty vocal by Harris's daughter Niki, who recently toured as a backup singer with Madonna. She's also featured on a swinging version of "Stormy Monday." The pop singer Curtis Stygers croons on "Time After Time" and the old Jimmy Rushing-Count Basie classic "Smack Dab In The Middle," and acquits himself surprisingly well on both. "J&G Blues" and "Blues For Big Foot" are slow, smoldering numbers on which McDuff and Harris trade solos. "Soft Winds" and "You Don't Know What Love Is" swing at a leisurely pace, while "Cayenne Blues" starts out with a Latin beat, kicks into a swinging 4/4 groove, then segues back to the Latin thing. All in all, this is a tasty release that should appeal to any fan of blues-flavored jazz. Other contributors are Ron Eschete on guitar, Luther Hughes on bass, and Paul Humphrey on drums.
I can't mention Gene Harris without referencing The Best Of The Three Sounds Featuring Gene Harris. This CD features 13 tracks recorded between 1956 and 1962, and it's simply one of the finest collections of blues-based piano jazz on the planet. The Three Sounds were underappreciated by jazz critics at the time, but they were one of the best-selling groups in the Blue Note stable. (For those who care about the opinions of other critics, see All Music's write-up about the The Three Sounds. Many reviewers who once panned this band have since change their minds.) The Three Sounds were Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy.