Pianist Gene Harris
was a durable jazz force from the beginning of his career as leader of the soul-jazz trio, The Three Sounds in the mid-1950s until his death in 2000. He described himself as "a blues pianist with chops" and that is as good a description as can be had. He had a piano style full of Count Basie
and seasoned with Art Tatum
(never too much of the latter to make his playing sound superfluous of showy}}.
Resonance Records founder, George Klabin's direct connection to the music and Harris goes back to his childhood, making this a labor of love. As Klabin and Zev Feldman have with so many previous recordings, most recently: Shirley Horn Live at the 4 Queens
(2016), Thad Jones and Mel Lewis: All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings at the Village Vanguard
(2016), and Bill Evans: Some Other Time: the Lost Session From the Black Forest
(2016), the production pair spin gold sounds from ancient miles of magnetic medium, providing us a hip view into the canonical book of 1960's soul jazz via Harris and the Three Sounds.
It was through a relationship between Klabin and Seattle mainstay Jim Wilke that Klabin became aware of a series of private recordings Wilke made while hosting his Seattle radio show Jazz from the Penthouse
for KING-FM during the 1960s. The Penthouse was a jazz club operating from 1962 to 1968 in Seattle, that played host to the likes of Miles Davis
, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and John Coltrane
. Among these recordings made by Wilke were several appearances by Harris and the Three Sounds. The resulting Groovin' Hard -Live at the Penthouse 19641968
is more than appropriate in light of Resonance Record's having released two previous live Harris recordings, Live in London
(2001) and Another Night In London
(2006), tapes of two 1995 performances obtained from Harris' widow, Janie, shortly after the pianist's death. Groovin' Hard
is comprised of 10 pieces, selected from Jim Wilke's weekly broadcasts, featuring three editions (with drummers Bill Dowdy, Kalil Madi, and Carl Burnett, who would later play with Art Pepper
) of the Three Sounds during four separate recitals in 1964, 1966, and 1968 before the close of of the club. Harris possessed a muscular, two-fisted piano style that took Red Garland
's block chord approach to its logical end. That style is very much in evidence on these recordings. With his command of the blues, Harris could infuse even the most unlikely compositions with the strength and tenacity of that genre without ever taking anything away for the original songs. Groovin' Hard
opens with a solid "Girl Talk" that displays Harris' command of the trio format as evidenced by precisely crafted percussive punctuations in the bridge that recalls the trio empathy achieved by Bill Evans
earlier in the decade.
"The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" begins with as a soothing samba rhythm that blows up into definitive soul-jazz after a Kalil Madi drum release. The disc contains four pieces never recorded by the band, a simmering "The Shadow of Your Smile," a rollicking gospel "Rat Down Front," a shimmering performance of Toots Theilman's "Bluesette," and "The Boogaloo," a Harris composition that exemplifies that the band was all about. Andy Simpkins is astounding throughout, no matter who played drums. But it is Gene Harris who is the center of the universe here...appropriately.
Girl Talk; The Night Has a Thousand Eyes; Blue Genes; The Shadow of Your Smile; Rat Down Front; Yours is My Heart Alone; A.M. Blues; Bluesette; Caesar and Cleopatra; The Boogaloo.
Gene Harris: piano; Andy Simpkins: bass; Bill Dowdy: drums (3, 5, 8, 9); Kalil Madi: drums (2, 7, 10); Carl Burnett: drums (1, 4, 6)