CD REVIEW: The Three Sounds (featuring Gene Harris) – Groovin’ Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-1968

The Three Sounds (featuring Gene Harris) – Groovin’ Hard: Live at The Penthouse 1964-1968
(Resonance Records HCD-2025 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

This welcome new CD captures pianist Gene Harris and his The Three Sounds trio live in Seattle between 1964-68, and overflows with the group’s joyful hard-swinging sounds.

It seems hard to believe now, but Gene Harris’ trio outsold everyone else on the legendary Blue Note label in the early 1960s. Harris led the group from 1958 until 1970, with a number of bass and drum collaborators.  This CD collects various tapes from the group’s appearances at The Penthouse club in Seattle, recorded at the time and broadcast simultaneously on local radio station KING-FM, and captures an exciting live in-the-room vibe.

Harris describes himself in the excellent sleeve notes as ‘a blues pianist with chops’ and his style doesn’t disappoint, with swinging bluey phrasing spilling into powerful block chord passages, a little like Red Garland on an angry and determined day.  All the trios work well together, with Andy Simpkins bass showing empathy and dynamics alongside some neat head arrangements.  Drumming duties are shared by Bill Dowdy (mainstay of the Three Sounds until he fell out with Harris in in the mid-1960s), Kalil Madi and Carl Burnett.

The music is a mix of standards, a couple of movie tunes including Theme from Caesar and Cleopatra, and three Harris originals.  The opening Girl Talk starts with rumbling chords before swaying into the theme with an irresistible Basie-ish swagger, and one can almost feel the Penthouse patrons relaxing with their martinis and puffing cigars.  Toots Thielemans’ tune Bluesette gives a great opportunity for the trio to build up a real head of steam before sliding back into a jaunty jazz-waltz bounce. 

Harris’s originals are in the vein of boogie blues shuffle, vehicles for showboating soloing which the leader doesn’t shy away from exploiting.  It’s notable that while the pianist isn’t afraid of raising the roof by using most of his fingers at once, he never overstays the moment – these tracks are under three minutes each of swinging soulfulness. 

All in all this CD is well worth hearing as a reminder of the Three Sounds and Gene Harris in their pomp in a live setting.  The packaging is excellent with a 20-page booklet and many photos, as well as detailed recollections of The Penthouse club, the recordings and where it all sits in the Three Sounds trajectory.  The title Groovin’ Hard sums up well the overall feel of the collection – plenty of groove, and delivered with an edge.  If you like swinging piano in a soul-jazz vein then this is really worth a place on your shelf. 

Categories: miscellaneous

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