In 2001, Concord Jazz described Live at Otter Crest as a "never-before-released live recording." But, in fact, this CD is actually a reissue of an obscure, little-known LP that originally came out on the Bosco label. When Live at Otter Crest was recorded at an Oregon gig on April 24, 1981, Gene Harris was in semi-retirement -- he was still performing, but not very often. And it wasn't until 1985 that the pianist's very productive association with Concord would begin. Because Harris had recorded some overproduced commercial projects in the late '70s, bop's hardcore was calling him a sellout. But on Live at Otter Crest, a 47-year-old Harris is hell-bent for straight-ahead, hard-swinging jazz -- funky and earthy, yes, but definitely straight-ahead. Forming a hard bop/soul-jazz trio with drummer Jimmie Smith (not to be confused with organist Jimmy Smith) and bassist John Heard, Harris sticks to the acoustic piano -- no keyboards, no electric piano, no synthesizers -- and he is as inspired on Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings" as he is on Neal Hefti's "Cute," and an 11-minute version of the traditional "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (which lends itself surprisingly well to a bop interpretation). Harris is confident and focused; it's as if he's assuring audience members that his commercial ventures of the 1970s didn't take away his desire to play straight-ahead jazz. Although not quite essential, Live at Otter Crest marked a welcome return to form for the soulful pianist.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson