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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove


Elegant Soul

Blue Note 50999 5 22386 2 8



1. Elegant Soul
2. Do It Right Now
3. Sittin' Duck
4. (Sock It To Me) Harper Valley P.T.A.
5. Sugar Hill
6. African Sweets
7. Black Gold
8. Book of Slim
9. Walls of Respect
Gene Harris - Piano
Andy Simpkins - Bass
Carl Burnett - Drums

Even the keenest jazz enthusiast would be hard put to name the bassist and drummer with the Three Sounds - a group that was very popular in the fifties and sixties. However, the trio's pianist is a different matter, as Gene Harris was always the pivotal force in the Three Sounds and later made his name playing with the Ray Brown Trio, leading the Philip Morris Super Band and his own small groups.

"Elegant soul" ideally sums up Harris's style - and it was used as the title of his wife Janie's biography of him, written a few years after Gene died in 2000. His piano playing was always soulful, laden with elements from the blues and gospel music. Although the first two tracks on this album (perhaps significantly credited to "Virginia P. Bland") are smoothed-out with strings and a backing chorus, Sittin' Duck is a good example of his righteous piano style: boogaloo with gospel overtones. The music has an immediate appeal to the heart and the pulse, although it starts to sound rather samey after a few tracks, staying roughly in the same groove and only lifted by Gene's resourceful variations on the basic theme. Gene keeps one's interest until the final Walls of Respect, which swings along nicely.

(Sock It To Me) Harper Valley P.T.A. gives a bouncy edge to Jeannie C. Riley's hit from 1968, the year when this album was recorded. It is now reissued in Blue Note's "Rare Groove Series". Herb Wong's wordy sleeve-note makes some unconvincing excuses for the trio's sometimes watered-down playing, which foreshadows the later fashion for "smooth jazz". But Wong's pompous verbiage (e.g. "As music per se moves into larger banquets of sounds, certain heretofore dynamic aspects may reach a status of relative invariance") cannot conceal the fact that this album is over-produced by arranger Monk Higgins, with all kinds of orchestral and vocal backing hindering the effectiveness of the trio's music - even though it seems less like a trio than Gene Harris accompanied by an inconspicuous bassist and drummer.

The album is pleasant enough but, from Gene Harris's subsequent work, one knows he had much more to offer than what is sometimes rather soulless soul.

Tony Augarde

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