Sometimes you feel closer to certain minor artists than to towering giants. Perhaps it is easier to claim them. Gene Harris was no Keith Jarrett, but, as Resonance producer Zev Feldman says, “he played for the people.” His music was warm, accessible, life-affirming and blues-drenched. His swing was bulletproof. The Three Sounds had a notable run from the late 1950s through the 1960s. Between 1958 and 1962, this piano trio, with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy, outsold every other act on the Blue Note label.
The 10 tracks here, all new to the world, were recorded live at the Penthouse in Seattle between 1964 and 1968. Jim Wilke, best known as the former host of Jazz After Hours, is also a recording engineer who has preserved thousands of hours of live jazz in Seattle clubs over the last 50 years. Groovin’ Hard comes from Wilke’s tape holdings. The sound is up-close and serviceable. The classy CD package, rich with photographs, memorabilia and intelligent documentation, is typical of archival releases on the Resonance label.
You don’t hear piano trios like this anymore. “Blue Genes” rolls ever onward, like a train. All the hooks and vamps and tags recall another popular pianist of that era, Ahmad Jamal. Harris was way funkier, but like Jamal he often arranged tunes into little concertos. Every section of “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” is precisely calibrated before the song breaks out in pure joy. “The Shadow of Your Smile,” nominally a ballad, is a sensuous glide that spikes into clamorous crescendos. “Yours Is My Heart Alone” is two-fisted (but stylish) romanticism.
From 1962 to 1968, the Penthouse was the beating heart of jazz in Seattle. There is no plaque to mark where it once stood on First and Cherry. But there is Groovin’ Hard.Originally Published