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Good News/Bad News. The editors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP & Cassette sum up Gene Harris' craft by stating that, "Harris is always going to end up making the same record, but so far it still sounds pretty good". I agree. Gene Harris, Ray Bryant, Junior Mance, and Monty Alexander all play a brand of bluesy, churchy piano, steeped in the gospel and bebop traditions that I find very appealing. Gene Harris is a blues expert in the same way the Fred Hersch is a ballads expert. Exactly. Harris need not even be playing a traditional twelve bar format to infuse all of his performances with the blues. Splendid, just splendid.
Gene's Groove. Harris assembles a very fine band for this live outing for Concord. He is united again with tenor titan Stanley Turrentine (Turrentine turned in a spirited performance on Harris' 1986 Concord release The Gene Harris Trio Plus One CCD-4303). Turrentine has lost little of his brand of fire to age and performs with intense individuality. Harris could not have chosen a more empathetic bassist to replace Ray Brown than George Mraz. Mraz's opening to "Bag's Groove" is worth the price of admission alone. Mraz also plays an exciting "Cottontail" solo, quoting the entire head of "Anthropology" (which he performed with Art Pepper on his Complete Village Vanguard Sessions [Contemporary 4417]).
Harry "Sweets" Edison reprises "I Wish I Knew" which he performed at the Fujitsu-Concord Jazz Festival ( Frank Wess/Harry Edison Orchestra—Dear Mr. Basie Concord CCD-4420) where he accents the recognizable coda, singing "Count-Bay-cee". Kenny Burrell expresses his love of Ellingtonia with his unaccompanied "Star Crossed Lovers", slipping into an understated introduction to "Take the 'A' Train" before that piece builds a head of steam with the whole band.
Quibble. In this recording, and the two previous ( In His Hands> [Concord CCD-4758] and Down Home Blues [Concord CCD-4785]), Harris has supported vocalist (including his own daughter Niki). I have found that while these vocalist have the best intentions and talent, they distract from the music being played. I feel this is most true on this new recording. Collage in Blue and Low Down Blues Medley end up as pedestrian blues jams.
Regardless, this is an excellent disc. I hope that Gene Harris continues to make music, vocalist or not. He is perhaps the most underrated pianist currently performing. I tip my hat to his talent and this recording.
Track Listing: Bag's Groove, I Wish I Knew, Ellington Medley: Star Crossed Lovers/Take the "A" Train, Time After Time, Collage in Blue: All Blues/Everyday 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.
Personnel: Gene Harris: Piano; Kenny Burrell: Guitar; George Mraz: Bass; Stanley Turrentine: Tenor Saxophone; Harry "Sweets" Edison": Trumpet, Lewis Nash: Drums, Ernie Andrews: Vocals.