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Gene Harris: Alley Cats

Ed Kopp By

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If you like your jazz tinted with gospel, blues and soul, you gotta love Gene Harris' two-fisted piano work.

Alley Cats is vintage Harris. Recorded live at Jazz Alley in Seattle, the album features the leader’s quartet (guitarist Frank Potenza, bassist Luther Hughes and drummer Paul Kreibich) along with veteran saxophonists Red Holloway and Ernie Watts. Harris and the saxmen establish the energy level here, and they don't hold anything back.

Harris' goal for Alley Cats was to get funky, and his ensemble surely accomplishes that objective on tunes like the Crusaders' "Put It Where You Want It," Cannonball Adderley's "Jive Samba" and an extended version of the soulful Eddie Harris composition "Listen Here." But Alley Cats also demonstrates Gene Harris' considerable versatility on keys. On Ernie Watts' fast-paced original "Bird's Idea," the pianist delivers a furious bop solo. On "Magic Lady," he embellishes a rapid Latin-soul groove. He comps beautifully behind daughter Nikki's vocals on "You've Changed." Then he trades bluesy runs with organist Jack McDuff on "Walkin' With Zack" and "Listen Here."

Stylistically, Alley Cats covers a lot of ground: soul-jazz, mainstream, a hint of gospel, bluesy jazz, occasional Latin grooves, a bop tune and a ballad. Leader Harris' fiery piano work is as soul-drenched as ever. Normally a tenor player, Watts blows alto on four tracks here. Daughter Niki's vocals sound a little thin on the two cuts where she's featured, but aside from that, Alley Cats is hot stuff.

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