Gene Harris – 1976 – In A Special Way
Yet another winner by Gene Harris from his mid ‘70s post 3-Sounds period. Gene Harris didn’t really have a weak moment during this time, all his albums he made during this period are wonderful blends of fusion, soulful spirituality and jazz-funk, sometimes even with the added bonus of a Latin flavor thrown-in to the cooking pot for that extra piquancy.
In A Special Way keeps this blend of styles going, but there are much more acoustic than electronic keys on here, so the whole feel is a little straighter and a much less experimental, but of all his solo albums that I’ve heard this one is definitely the most straight-up funky. Real high points for me are the stunningly beautiful “Theme For Relana” and his very dramatic take on Coltrane’s “Naima”, which probably is a crime in real jazz world, but Gene Harris was making anything but real jazz at this point, plus I just love all the driving bass, heavy guitar and soaring vocals that just make this a real killer fusion take on a classic tune. Though not as energizing as Astral Signal or Tone Tantrum, this is still a great album and well worth hunting down.
A1 Theme for Relana 6:34
A2 Rebop 3:58
A3 Zulu 5:00
A4 Always in My Mind 4:32
B1 Love for Sale 4:49
B2 It’s Your Love 3:01
B3 Soft Cycles 2:28
B4 Five / Four 3:44
B5 Naima 6:20
Gene Harris was always funky, right from the start of the Three Sounds until he began a belated solo career in the early ’70s, but he never tried to come to terms with contemporary funk quite as explicitly as he did with In a Special Way. Teaming with a number of funk and fusion stars, including Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey and guitarist Lee Ritenour, Harris crafted a record that revels in contemporary soul trends from the mid-’70s — lite funk in the vein of EWF, disco, Philly soul, and vapid fusion. The production is heavy-handed and glossy, filled with drippy strings, thumping beats, wordless backing vocals, and silly synthesized effects. Through it all, Harris plays exactly like he always does, as if he were oblivious to his surroundings.
It makes for some truly bizarre moments: the disco interpretation of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale“, the farting synth-bass meshing with disembodied vocals on “Five/Four,” the completely botched fuzak and fuzz guitar take on Coltrane’s “Naima“. Occasionally, Harris plays quite nicely, as on “Rebop” or “Theme for Relana“, but his solos just sink into the overproduced murk. There’s really no explanation for the heavy-handed gloss of In a Special Way — with Harris’ piano mixed to the back, it sounds like the work of studio hacks, but there are enough glimpses of his unique musical personality to make it a wasted opportunity. And there’s really no explanation for the cornucopia of children on the cover, either.