Gene Harris: Live At Otter Crest
Concord has now released the second Gene Harris CD after his passing early last year. Unlike some of the other Concord 2-CD sets that honor the label’s esteemed artists, Live At Otter Crest instead captures Gene Harris’ irresistible style live in a club setting with just bass and drums back-up.
And a club setting is where Harris excelsin front of an audience, feeding off its energy and communicating instantaneously from the tips of his fingers to the souls of his listeners.
Rather than the highly engineered studio setting where Harris’ work comes through crisply and without interference, Live At Otter Crest leaves in the crowd whoops and the ambient sounds that signify Harris’ presence in the midst of an audience that felt free to encourage and talk. And Harris’ piano certainly is not top of the line, as it would be on a concert stage or in a recording studio. More tinny and more muffled that a Steinway or Bösendorfer would be, the piano at Otter Crest certainly was not purchased with virtuoso performances in mind.
In spite of that, Harris gives a virtuoso performance, proving that his inspiration and the feel of the music typify his work, rather than the consistency of the instruments on which he performed.
In that respect, Live At Otter Crest is similar in some respects to the Left Bank CD’s that Label M has released. Certainly not pure in an engineering sense, and probably recorded on less than ideal equipment, the success of Harris’ concert is so effective that it deserves documentation and enjoyment.
For instance, he internalized “My Foolish Heart” with rhapsodic full-keyboard runs that dissolve into shimmering tremolos and gospel intimations. The slow changes of the tune, rather than restricting Harris, release him by providing a structure for his improvisations. The tune ends in an octaved cadenza reminiscent in some respects to Oscar Peterson’s dramatic flair for concluding a piece, not to mention including at the end a rising and falling “scream,” similar to what Chucho Valdes does so masterfully with graceful sweep.
“Battle Hymn Of The Republic” is full of potential, and Harris chooses to interpret the song with a gospel-tinged introduction leading into a single-noted melody over Smith’s sensitive brushing.
Ending the set with Neal Hefti’s “Cute,” Harris abandons the Basie orchestra’s anticipatory hints of swing between the notes. Instead, he blasts ahead full force in a crowd-pleasing version that verifies once again, as does every Gene Harris performance, the fun in his music and the technical mastery that serves as a means for reaching out to audiences.
Quite unlike other Gene Harris CD’s, in spite of the consistency among all of them, Live At Otter Crest lets us in on the thrill of hearing him perform in a roomful of people who are united by the force of his music.
Track Listing: Sweet Lorraine, My Foolish Heart, A Little Blues There, Battle Hymn Of The Republic, Shiny Stockings, Cute
Personnel: Gene Harris, piano; John Heard, bass; Jimmie Smith, drums