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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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BILL HARRIS

The Blues-Soul of Bill Harris;
Complete Mercury Recordings
1956-1959

FRESH SOUNDS FSR-CD 792

 

 

CD1

1. Stompin' at the Savoy

2. Moonglow

3. Cherokee

4. Out of Nowhere

5. Ethyl

6. Possessed

7. Perdido

8. I Can't Get Started

9. Dreaming

10. K. C. Shuffle

11. Ivanhoe

12. Lover

13. Spring

14. Baker's Dozen

15. Golden Sunset

16. Honeysuckle Rose

17. Midnight Blue

18. Yesterdays

19. The Harris Touch

20. All the Things You Are

21. 'S Wonderful

22. Sometimes I'm Happy

23. Rock Bottom Blues

24. The Man I Love

CD2

1. Lullaby of Birdland

2. Blue Angel

3. The Song Is You

4. Daahoud

5. Ethyl

6. Wind Song

7. Ol Man River

8. Once in a While

9. Poinciana [Song of the Tree]

10. Concerto for Jazz Guitar (Your Majesty)

11. Jordu

12. Lover

13. All the Things You Are

14. Poinciana [Song of the Tree]

15. Well You Needn t

16. "Intaglio Monk", Parts 1 & 2

17. Stompin' at the Savoy

18. Possessed

19. Cherokee

20. The Song Is You

21. Where Is Big Joe Williams Blues

22. Ethyl

 

Bill Harris (guitar); with Hank Jones (piano, celesta): bass, drums, bongos on CD1, tracks 14-24

Recorded 1956-62 [61:10 + 67:18]


Bill Harris – the guitarist not the trombonist – was born in 1925 and came to prominence with a series of LPs in the later 1950s. This twofer distils the essence of those earlier discs as soloist and leader. The first is just called ‘Bill Harris’, appropriately so as he plays solo, the second is called ‘The Harris Touch’ and sees him accompanied by Hank Jones and uncredited rhythm players including a regrettable virtuoso of the bongos. LP number three is ‘Great Guitar Sounds’, solo once again, whilst ‘Caught in the Act’ is from a live solo recital in Washington in 1962.

Harris is an easy swinger and his lexicon of influences is rather wider than the average player at the time. It’s clear that he admired Segovia and the Iberianism that so infused Segovia’s playing and repertoire is evoked here, from time to time (try Moonglow) His unamplified Tatay guitar is heard to real advantage on this first side, where he can simulate a walking bass and keep the melody line going. Chordal patterns are distinctive, his tremolandi articulate, and his cultivation of some Albéniz-like moves adds to the Spanish tinge – though one that may prove rather off-putting to those versed on Charlie Christian’s lexicon of licks. Harris, though, is a distinctive player, albeit uneven and sometimes decidedly lightweight. Baker’s Dozen is a very obvious Boogie workout and K.C Shuffle flatters to deceive – there are no echoes of the great powerhouse days of Kansas bands.

Hank Jones isn’t stretched too far in his role with the now amplified Harris. It was something of a mistake, I feel, for the articulate Jones to get busy with a celesta, a well-known mire for some jazz pianists of the time. It sounds insipid and indeed half-hearted. Very occasionally Harris echoes Django, as on The Man I Love, but it’s not a strong or pervasive influence. For ‘Great Guitar Sounds’ we start revisiting earlier tracks – his reprise of Ethyl, for instance. Once in a While is a flippant performance and given the short track lengths – many hover around the two-minute mark – there’s not much time for Harris to recover. The final LP, live, allows him to stretch out strategically on a few tracks. His murmuring obbligato is certainly a nuisance but more so is the way he sometimes gets bogged down, as he does on Intaglio Monk, Parts 1 and 2. Again he reprises favourites from the other albums – Ethyl once again, Possessed and Cherokee amongst them.

More a colourist than a fluent improviser, Harris often offers sonically interesting sides. The effect, cumulatively, of these early albums, however, is of a short-breathed performer caught in a stylistic no-man’s land.

Jonathan Woolf



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