Gene Harris and the Three Sounds ‘Elegant Soul’ (Blue Note Rare Groove) 4/5

The Three Sounds underwent a major stylistic change after mid-1967 with an accompanying minor change in personnel. Until then they had performed as classic jazz trio with a bluesy feel and had recently recorded the superb live album ‘Live at the Lighthouse’ in June 1967. Thereafter strings were added, flute and vibes introduced, and the drum pattern was more akin to that of the emerging funk sound pioneered by James Brown. Chicago-based producer Monk Higgins was clearly influenced by the soul orchestrations of the windy city and ‘Elegant Soul’ is a superior example of soul and jazz styles merging. Aided by the writing of fellow producer See Ervin and separate songwriter Virginia Bland, compositions range from extended workouts to tight blues-inflected grooves. The longest of these, ‘Sittin’ Duck’ weighs in at over nine minutes. For jazz fans the strings are far from intrusive as illustrated on ‘Do it right now’ with occasional background chants. A left-field winner is to be found in ‘African Sweets’. All in all arguably the best of the late period studio recordings Gene Harris and the band made for Blue Note. Tim Stenhouse

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