Gene Harris & the Philip Morris All-Stars: Live (2002)
All–Stars? They don’t shine much brighter than this. Most of these gentlemen have been winning Jazz polls and receiving other well–deserved honors for many years. The exception is drummer Nash, a relative newcomer who isn’t winning many polls — yet — but should be, and who certainly isn’t out of place among these heavyweights. This concert, recorded in April 1995 at the University Club in San Diego, California, was part of a seminar whose focus was, appropriately enough, free speech, and whose audience consisted mainly of leading jurists from around the world and members of the Hollywood elite. They undoubtedly acquired some fresh insights on freedom of speech, Jazz–style, from these acknowledged masters. Harris, the nominal leader, sees to it that every voice in the ensemble comes through loud and clear — including his own, of course — with showcase features for then–79–year–old Sweets Edison (“I Wish I Knew”), Burrell (“Star Crossed Lovers/Take the A Train”) and Turrentine (“Time After Time”) and everyone stretching on Milt Jackson’s funky “Bags’ Groove” and Ellington’s free–wagging “Cottontail.” Harris’s emphatic, blues–drenched piano, Mraz’s booming, metronomic bass and Nash’s tasteful, unerring drums comprise a rhythm section that’s about as good as they come. I especially admire the way Nash calmly governs mood and tempo without stepping on anyone’s toes or invading his space (and love his solo, too, on “Cottontail”). As I’ve said before, one of my favorite drummers. Baritone Ernie Andrews is in topnotch form, as always, on “Collage in Blue” and “Low Down Blues Medley” (the latter including impressions of blues masters Jimmy Rushing, Art Jammerson, Al Hibbler and Walter Brown), on both of which he receives exemplary support, especially from Harris (whose soulful stride–style chorus on “Blues Medley” is a highlight). While there’s nothing here that hasn’t been heard many times before, even the most familiar melodies sparkle like new again when performed by such capable and earnest musicians.
Track listing: Bags’ Groove; I Wish I Knew; Ellington medley (Star Crossed Lovers/Take the “A” Train); Time After Time; Collage in Blue (All Blues/Every Day I Have the Blues/Goin’ Down Slow/CC Rider); Cottontail; Low Down Blues medley (Parker’s Mood/Goin’ to Chicago/Rocks in My Bed/Confessin’ the Blues) (60:10).
Gene Harris, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Harry