Album Reviews

The Three Sounds Featuring Gene Harris

Groovin’ Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964-1968

Artist:     The Three Sounds Featuring Gene Harris

Album:     Groovin’ Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964-1968

Label:     Resonance Records

Release Date:     01/13/17


If only the walls of Seattle’s cozy old jazz venue The Penthouse could talk, they could go on for days about the greats who played there. The mind-blowing list includes Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and there’s more where that came from, including The Three Sounds. A piano-based trio that sold more records for Blue Note than anybody else on the esteemed label from 1958-1962, they were club favorites, with the legendary Gene Harris tickling the ivories with groove-mongering gusto.

Technical mastery, a great feel for orgiastic swing and the crowd-pleasing heart of an entertainer – Harris had every tool a great jazz pianist should. His dazzling chops, as well as those of bassist Andy Simpkins and all the drummers of The Three Sounds, from original skinsman Bill Dowdy to Kalil Madi and Carl Burnett, make the fully loaded archival concert package Groovin’ Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964-1968 sizzle and pop.

Stylish standards such as “Yours is My Heart Alone” transition seamlessly from brooding and pensive to bubbly and vibrant, as Harris darts this way and that across the keys with a deft touch, a bass solo roams freely and the threesome collapse in an exhausted heap at the end, as if they’d run a marathon. The blazing “Rat Down Front,” a manic, sweaty, propulsive boogie-woogie meltdown always in danger of flying off the rails, is one of four sublime originals brought to life onstage here at The Penthouse that never graced any Three Sounds album, while the rich, seductive cocktail jazz of their elegant, rapturous version of “Girl Talk” slows to a tantalizing crawl.

Unpredictable, with a gregarious personality, The Three Sounds carried on lively musical conversations in such environs, communicating in languages ranging from the blues to bebop and bossa nova. Local jazz radio guru Jim Wilke used to record such groups live for his KING-FM radio show, “Jazz from The Penthouse.” This material is culled from his archives. The writings in the accompanying 20-page booklet tell the story with great insight and thoroughness. It’s one that deserves a rapt audience.

—Peter Lindblad

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