[NOTE: Despite having written this more or less at my leisure over the course of three days, I noticed that a couple of factual errors managed to slip in, one of them in the very first sentence. I originally wrote that my hiatus was three months; it was actually only a little over two. Also, I gave two release years for the album, 1990 and 2004. The latter was when the Concord 5.1 Stereo Surround CD was issued. 1990 was the actual issue year of the original album, and for the purposes of this blog that is the year that is important. Thanks for your patience with my little inconsistencies. 🙂 -AE 9-18-2016]
This review is my first outing after taking a two-month hiatus to deal with my untreated Sleep Apnea. I am now receiving treatment for it, no thanks to my medical or dental insurance providers, in the form of a special, custom-fitted mouthpiece designed to keep my airway from closing when I’m in bed asleep.
It has now been a little over a month since I picked it up from my dentist, and I must admit the results are mixed. Some days are good, some days are less than good. Overall, things seem to be improving, but it’s going slowly.
We (my dentist and I) are still dealing with an issue concerning pain in my mouth after I remove the mouthpiece in the morning, but I am confident that will soon be in the past.
But enough of that, for now anyway. I am anxious to move on to the first album I’ve written about in a very long time!
The fact that the subjects of this review are two of my favorite musicians probably comes as no surprise to you. Each of them is among practically every jazz lover’s list of favorites, a reputation that was hard-earned.
You have seen both of them here before: Gene Harris twice, once in JFASN # 63 for his 1993 album, “A Little Piece of Heaven,” and then again in JFASN # 104 for the 1995 release, “Gene Harris And The Phillip Morris All Stars Live.” Notwithstanding the tobacco company’s involvement in the second one, both are outstanding albums.
Scott Hamilton is likewise no stranger to these parts. I wrote about him previously in JFASN # 78 for “The Second Set,” which was released back in 1984.
In order to devote as much room in this review as possible to the music, I am going to refer you to those earlier writings for biographical information.
The album I want to tell you about this week was, as near as I can tell, the first and last time these two giants of jazz were paired up on record. I’m talking about the 1990 release, “At Last.”
The personnel for this all-studio release are:
Gene Harris, piano
Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophone
Herb Ellis, guitar
Ray Brown, bass
Harold Jones, drums
“At Last” consists of 10 songs and is one of my favorite albums. It occurs to me that you’ve probably read me saying that before, and for good reason: Just about all the albums I write about here are among my favorites. 🙂
The guys kick it off with the Jimmie Davis standard, “You Are My Sunshine.” The first few seconds are just Harris tinkling away on the piano, but he is soon joined by Brown and Hamilton and the rest. This is of course one of those songs that is so upbeat and delightful that it is difficult to imagine anyone being in a bad mood or grumpy while listening to it. All in all, a superb way to open this album!
Here’s your chance to check it out for yourself:
Another track to lift your spirits is Turner Layton’s composition, “After You’ve Gone.” Don’t be fooled by that title, which to me seemed to suggest a drab, mournful piece, fit for reflecting on an evening filled with regret and loneliness. The title lies. J From the first seconds when Jones’ rapid fire rim shots guide this one explosively out of the starting gate, this song is a joyous celebration of… Well, you pick something. Hamilton soon steps in and the big warm sound of his tenor makes you realize this is not a song for introspection, nor is it fuel for a pity party. Just the opposite.
“After You’ve Gone”…
Normally in these reviews I focus most on the titles that are of an energetic nature, the songs that make you want to get up and dance. During the eight and a half years that I hosted Saturday Night Jazz, it became obvious to me that people wanted to hear good jazz, yes, but on Saturday night they also wanted that good jazz to make them feel good.
Which, by taking the long way ’round, actually brings us to the title track, “At Last,” which sprang forth from the pens of Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. This is one of the more mellow songs on the album, and while it is indeed good jazz, honesty compels me to point out that it falls more into the category of “book reading music.” Not that I have anything against either the reading of books or the music that seems made to accompany that activity. But we’re talking about Saturday night! Who sits home and reads a book on a Saturday night? Hell, even I don’t do that!
“At Last” is a wonderful song even though it is more fitting for the later hours of the evening when your guests (perhaps all except one?) have gone and things are winding down… Or heating up. Ahem.
“At Last” at last… Heh.
Milt Jackson gave us the next song, “Blues For Gene,” which was debuted on Jackson’s 2002 album, “Soul Route.” Said album featured Ray Brown on bass, Mickey Roker on drums, and Harris on piano, making his return to performing after having gone into retirement a few years previously.
But I digress. Returning to the album I’m presently writing about, “Blues For Gene” gives everyone a chance to strut their stuff, and do they ever! Hamilton and Harris both give it their all, and the rest of the guys aren’t exactly sitting on their hands either.
“Blues For Gene”:
Other high points to watch for are “Some Of These Days,” and Ray Brown’s “Sittin’ In The Sandtrap.”
You know what I’m going to say next. “At Last” from Scott Hamilton and the late Gene Harris is a fantastic jazz album, and I am absolutely convinced that you will find it to be a wonderful addition to your own personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To learn more about the life and music of the late Gene Harris, New York Times writer Ben Ratliff penned a nice obituary that is about as good a bio as you are likely to find online.
You’ll find loads of information about Scott Hamilton on his web site, here.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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