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Gene Harris: Live in London

Recorded in 1996 with British musicians Jim Mullen (guitar), Andrew Cleyndert (bass) and Martin Drew (drums), this set finds pianist Harris in typically rousing form. One minute he’s tinkling along understated and easy like Basie and the next he’s rolling out the big block chords and stomping like Oscar Peterson. His bluesiness and huge sense of swing defy you to sit still. From his early days as leader of the Three Sounds through his work with bassist Ray Brown’s trio in the ’90s, Harris, who died at age 66 in 2000, was a crowd pleaser in the best sense of the term.

There are six generous tracks here, all familiar fare except the closer, which is a blues (so it might as well be classified as familiar). “There Is No Greater Love” sets the pace with good group dynamics, impressive bass walking, a warm and swinging guitar solo and supple drum breaks. Harris takes “Blue Monk” at a fast clip and builds a powerful head of steam as he goes. “My Funny Valentine” and, later, “Misty” are exercises in slow-motion restraint and then building to a climax. “In a Mellow Tone” and “Blues Closer” offer feel-good medium tempos and plenty of infectious swing. The British musicians acquit themselves admirably. Mullen solos with a fondness for quotes, a bluesy attack and solid swing. You can thank Janie Harris, the pianist’s widow, for providing Resonance with these welcome London tapes.

Originally Published