September 2008

Gene Harris Quartet - Live in London
Resonance Records HCD 2001
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

In 1992, Gene Harris split from his gig with the Ray Brown Trio. Four years later he embarked on a European tour. Told he couldn’t bring his US band with him for cost reasons but that a UK trio could be lined up, an apprehensive Harris still agreed to go. Once there, within the space of one warm-up number, he found that the playing of UK jazz veterans Jim Mullen on guitar, Martin Drew on drums and kid newcomer Andrew Cleyndent on bass fit him like a glove. To keep any unforeseen problems to a minimum, Harris kept the repertoire to tunes by Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington and Errol Garner, plus two standards -- "There Is No Greater Love" and "My Funny Valentine" -- and one original. The results were typical Gene Harris, so there would be no surprises. The band and the crowd loved him. You will too.

Sonically Live in London does surprise. Given the age of the tapes and how long they sat in the can before their initial release, I wonder why it took so long for them to see the light of day. The sound is as first-rate as the music. Harris’s piano sounds like a full-sized instrument. Cleyndent’s bass is full, deep and tight. Mullen’s guitar flows along nicely. Drew’s drums snap, crackle and pop -- and the cymbals shimmer (though not as fully as I might wish). Tone and timbre are well handled. The soundstage is tilted a bit to the left, but still well spaced, with a sense of both width and depth.

Even though we had to wait a dozen years to hear these 52 minutes of superb music, I’d say the result was well worth it. It makes for a lovely reminder of just how good Gene Harris truly was.