A never-before-release can be of great value or it can be entirely forgettable. This live session from London, featuring veteran pianist Gene Harris with a stellar quartet, stands with the former. It's a valuable watermark of his career that demonstrates the feeling that went into every performance and is what led sources such as the All Music Guide to label his style as soul-jazz
. It's there for all to experience, and if one does not get to some foot-tapping and head-nodding during the course of this session, then that would have to be a personal problem.
Harris delivers "In a Mellow Tone" with passion. His piano opens the piece with a solo rubato message that lingers in anticipation and opens the door. He strokes its theme with a laid-back caress that leads to heightened embellishment. Never one to overstate his topic, the pianist relaxes while running up and down the keyboard with expressive cascades that build momentum. Guitarist Jim Mullen follows with a powerful excursion that sings out casually and emotes with plenty of strength, while keeping the blues feeling up front. Bassist Andrew Cleyndert then gives this Duke Ellington standard a homespun texture as he weaves his way seamlessly over its melody. Drummer Martin Drew brings this extended interpretation towards its close with an exciting give-and-take conversation that contains crisp rolls as well as some serious punctuation. Finally, Harris takes the piece home with a gentle understatement that glows like the embers from an all-night fireplace log.
"Misty" and "My Funny Valentine" afford Harris and his band the occasion for expressive thought from a slower tempo. Balance: that's what made his performances so special. Gene Harris knew how to say it all through his music and did so with class.
Personnel: Gene Harris: piano; Jim Mullen: guitar; Andrew Cleyndert: double bass; Martin Drew: drums.