Gene Harris & The Three Sounds – 1968 – Elegant Soul

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Gene Harris & The Three Sounds Elegant Soul

 A key meeting between the Three Sounds trio and the amazing Monk Higgins – done at a time when Higgins was taking his Chicago-crafted grooves to work on the west coast – and doing some really wonderful productions with Dee Ervin! The set features full Higgins backings throughout – a mix of jazz and strings that takes the usual Gene Harris sound into territory that you’d be much more likely to hear on Cadet Records back in Chi-town – a very hip, very soulful style that’s totally great throughout, and a much-needed break from the straighter piano trio sound of other 60s albums the group did on Blue Note. Some tracks are laidback, but others are hard and funky – the kind of sock-solid cuts that have made the album a favorite with sample heads and soul dancers over the years – much heavier keyboard work than we’d ever heard before from Gene Harris, and a great precursor to funky favorites to come. 

Tracks
A1 Elegant Soul 3:20
A2 Do It Right Now 6:18
A3 Sittin` Duck 9:15
B1 (Sock It to Me) Harper Valley P.T.A.2:45
B2 Sugar Hill 2:45
B3 African Sweets 4:35
B4 Black Gold 3:56
B5 Book of Slim 3:46
B6 Walls of Respect 3:40

Gene Harris & The Three Sounds Elegant Soul B

After the release of Coldwater Flat five months earlier, Three Sounds pianist Gene Harris and bassist Andy Simpkins found themselves faced with yet another personnel change: Donald Bailey, who’d been with group for only two albums, left the group (after replacing founding drummer Bill Dowdy) and was replaced by Carl Burnett. The jazz-pop direction that Harris and Simpkins pursued on the fine Coldwater Flat set — where the trio fronted the Oliver Nelson band and a string section — was followed up here with composer and saxophonist Monk Higgins as arranger, conductor, and co-producer (with Dee Ervin). Elegant Soul, one of two albums Higgins did with the trio, is indeed fittingly titled. The pop tunes on the set include a reading of Tom T. Hall’s hit “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” featuring additional players like drummer Paul Humphrey (who appears on the entire album for added muscle), Alan Estes on vibes, guitarist Al Vesvoco, and nine string players, adding a perverse, lush, deeply soulful sheen with shuffling breaks laid down by Burnett, Humphrey, and a chorus of uncredited female backing vocalists. 

Gene Harris & The Three Sounds - 1968 - Elegant Soul label

The centerpiece of this beautiful — and underappreciated at the time — album is Higgins’ nine-plus-minute “Sittin’ Duck” with Harris at his hooky gospelized best, playing the hell out of the changes and filling the measures with his requisite taste and feel. The two drummers shuffle in unison, and Estes’ vibes articulate the melody with Harris adding a warmer dimension. The strings are rich, but are employed mostly in the codas and tags, adding to the dramatic weight of the tune, which is otherwise a long, dance-worthy strut. Elsewhere, the strings are varied in their texture on the gorgeous “Sugar Hill”; they outdo those in the hits of the day like Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue” or even Roger Williams’ Born Free“. Ervin’s “African Sweets” is one of the set’s highlights, too. It lifts six notes from the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” on top of a happening bass vamp and some slamming snare to introduce the cut. This is down-and-dirty soul-jazz dressed for Saturday night at the club; Harris beats the hell out of the piano’s middle register in pure groove ecstasy. The added flamenco-style guitar and rough-and-rowdy flute solo add to an already heady brew. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg in a sense. Elegant Soul was – and could even be currently – dismissed with a casual listen as lightweight pop with a compelling rhythmic sense. But that would be selling it way short. This album warrants close listening to discern all that’s happening in its production and arrangements. Whether it’s on the dancefloor, for sampling, for feel-good or deep listening, or for finger-popping, it satisfies on all levels.

[Previously only available as an import, Elegant Soul was reissued in 2008 as part of Blue Note Records’ venerable Rare Groove series.] 

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Conversation for album: Gene Harris & The Three Sounds – 1968 – Elegant Soul

22 Comments
  • Grumpy
    Posted at 09:01h, 15 September 2014 Reply

    Thank you!

  • Theodore
    Posted at 12:04h, 15 September 2014 Reply

    Really enjoyed this – thank you!

  • Neil
    Posted at 09:05h, 16 September 2014 Reply

    Funky & Jazzy

  • Gordon
    Posted at 09:35h, 16 September 2014 Reply

    I used to play all of the Three Sounds music on the radio back in the DAY!.

  • Mick
    Posted at 09:00h, 17 September 2014 Reply

    this one is fantastic !

  • Elgin
    Posted at 19:36h, 17 September 2014 Reply

    Thanks for the beautiful album and keeping this music alive.

  • Richard
    Posted at 06:06h, 18 September 2014 Reply

    Thanks as usual and for knowing Soul

  • David
    Posted at 08:54h, 18 September 2014 Reply

    Wow, another incredible find and a wealth of info as always. Many thanks.

  • Derrick
    Posted at 08:51h, 19 September 2014 Reply

    Much Thanks Nikos! I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate all you do.

  • Lino
    Posted at 09:00h, 19 September 2014 Reply

    nice post, thanks a bunch.

  • Drago
    Posted at 12:34h, 19 September 2014 Reply

    can’t wait – this record sounds incredible! keep up the awesome work guys!

  • Pascoal
    Posted at 19:03h, 19 September 2014 Reply

    obrigado

  • T-Swift
    Posted at 04:05h, 20 September 2014 Reply

    Much obliged, lost this record a long time ago….thank you for bringing back the memories!

  • T-Swift
    Posted at 04:06h, 20 September 2014 Reply

    Anybody have the Soul Symphony record by the Three Sounds?

  • ANDRIEN
    Posted at 19:32h, 20 September 2014 Reply

    Great post & great LP. Thanks for sharing. Greetings from France.

  • Roni
    Posted at 19:53h, 20 September 2014 Reply

    Thanks man….I truly appreciate the hard work that you do.

  • Adam
    Posted at 14:24h, 21 September 2014 Reply

    I’m about to check this out. This site is amazing!

  • Liza
    Posted at 18:53h, 21 September 2014 Reply

    I’m diggin’ this one!! love as always.

  • Archie
    Posted at 09:30h, 23 September 2014 Reply

    Can’t wait to give it a listen. Love as always…

  • Stephan
    Posted at 19:58h, 01 October 2014 Reply

    Outstanding

  • MudFlapp
    Posted at 17:47h, 02 October 2014 Reply

    The song Sittin Duck is infectious! The Book Of Slim is bad ass as well.

  • Mekster
    Posted at 16:16h, 09 October 2014 Reply

    This is incredible. Listened 4 times in 2 days already. Thank you.

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