Gene Harris – 1971 – Gene Harris The 3 Sounds
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A hard-to-find Blue Note album from soul jazz piano master Gene Harris!
1971’s Gene Harris/The Three Sounds is easily one of the hippest and funkiest records Harris made with his group the Three Sounds. Arrangements are by Monk Higgins but the sound is even heavier than the Higgins/Harris work of the late 60s and quite different than the straight trio material of their roots.
The venerable Blue Note label has long been a trademark of quality; even if you’re not familiar with the artist or the recorded work, chances are that if it came out on Blue Note, it’s at least worth checking out.
And that’s true for the pair of confusingly- and similarly-named albums released in the early 70s. Gene Harris / The Three Sounds (1971) and Gene Harris of the Three Sounds(1972) are soul jazz (and just-plain-jazz with (and without) vocals. Very much of their time, these LPs have aged well, despite being hard to locate for many years. Now these cuts of funky-soul and jazz goodness can be enjoyed by modern audiences.
A1 I’m Leaving 5:30
A2 Your Love Is Just Too Much 2:44
A3 Did You Think 3:28
A4 Put On Train 5:50
B1 You Got To Play The Game 5:40
B2 What’s The Answer 3:32
B3 Eleanor Rigby 6:52
B4 Hey Girl 3:12
This two-fer pairs two pivotal and seemingly conflicting recordings in the career of Gene Harris as he entered the 1970s, a period that was to see his trademark rootsy sound embrace the emergent jazz-funk. The first of these albums, Gene Harris/The 3 Sounds, issued in 1971, gives us the bedrock exploration of the sound that gave us his later ’70s classics Astral Signal, Nexus, In a Special Way, and Tone Tantrum.
It was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by George Butler, with Monk Higgins arranging, co-composing all but one tune (a cover of “Eleanor Rigby”), and playing organ. Other players included guitarists Freddy Robinson and Albert Vescovo, bassist Luther Hughes, drummer Carl Burnett, Paul Humphrey on percussion, and Bobbye Porter on congas. For fans of the original Three Sounds, the preponderance of vocals may be a shock. They are often slightly off-key, and sung in a loose group style. But they do add to the overall driving, funky sound that embraces rock, soul, and pop, as well as jazz. (Check “I’m Leavin’”, “You Got to Play the Game” and “Hey Girl”). Harris’ signature grooving piano is present throughout, but its contrast with Higgins’ busier, often raucous arrangements is notable. Despite the dense instrumentation, the instrumentals are smokin’ (“Your Love Is Just Too Much”, “What’s the Answer”).
Gene Harris‘ piano enlivens every one of these tracks, but don’t let the Three Sounds monicker fool you into thinking these cuts are just piano, bass and drums. There’s some (here’s that word again) funky guitar work, plus some tasty percussion to spice things up. Imagine a cross between some of the more soulful jazz pianists of the era (Herbie Hancock, to name one) and the kind of thing that Isaac Hayes did in his more uptempo moments, and you’ll have a flavor for The Three Sounds.
The vocals are fine – Harris is an expressive vocalist, and massive overdubs (as on “I’m Leaving”) create a Harris-chorus of sorts. But it’s on the instrumental numbers (such as “Your Love is too Much”) in which the band really gets into the deep groove. While the piano filigree on “Did You Think” is pretty amazing in its speed and complexity, the somewhat maudlin song doesn’t support it well enough.
But the instrumental “Put On Train” again bridges that gap between jazz and Curtis Mayfield circa Super Fly. “You Got to Play the Game” aims for a slick Philly soul vibe, and is reasonably successful if a bit unabashedly commercial-sounding for this set.
Don’t miss another superb album by Gene Harris & the Three Sounds,
1968 “Elegant Soul” in our back pages here