Found! The Three

The ThreeEvery once in a while I pick up an LP for its cover, and The Three was one of those, years ago (which is why I don’t recall the cost, but it was in the $5-10 range). The cover is dark, with what appear to be blurry, out of focus lights and as a photographer, it appealed to me. The songs and performance more than justified my faith in “buying by cover.” This 1978 release on Inner City Records (IC6007) is a showcase for jazz pianist Joe Sample, drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Ray Brown. Before you stop reading, give Sample a chance to impress you.

Sample is best known for his work with the Crusaders, a 60s jazz band (then known as the Jazz Crusaders), who morphed into the 70s as more of a pop jazz group, with a few songs that actually charted (Street Life, 1979).  But this effort isn’t pop, it is six standards of pure jazz.  It’s also very well recorded, particularly for its time. Some 70s records have a thin sound, mostly midrangey with little low end. From the first time I put this LP on my turntable, the sonics impressed me. At the time, it almost sounded like direct-to-disk. One of the real pleasures of owning my Dahlquist DQ-10 speakers is hearing a record like this.

Let’s start with my fave jazz drummer, Shelly Manne.

Manne’s drumming is right in the room with you, meaning he is really well recorded. The LP has great dynamics, so after a twangy bass solo by Ray Brown, Manne’s high hat and snare really pop off the vinyl. If you’ve never heard him, these songs are full of his creative little fills and rolls, nuanced in the way that a guitarist or pianist might add to the background of a song, except it’s the drummer. If you know Art Blakey’s “bombs away” approach, Manne is the opposite. Rather than just keep time on the hi-hat or ride cymbal, he tirelessly tap-sh-pop’s his way across every skin, every cymbal, every note of the tune. I believe you should listen to this LP just for him. If there is an endlessly inventive jazz drummer, it’s Shelly.

Reminds me of Keith Moon, the rock drummer for the Who; he never let a song go without giving it everything he had.  Manne isn’t a rocker, of course. If you’ve never found drumming interesting, try anything he did on the Contemporary label back in the 50s…or this LP, of course, and focus on him. You’ll be rewarded.

But this is still Joe Sample’s record, even if his name isn’t on the front cover. Sample can really play straight jazz, unlike most of the pop pianists from the 70s that you might lump him together with. You just can’t play standards like Round About Midnight, Satin Doll or On Green Dolphin Street with any credibility unless you’ve got the chops, which he has in abundance.

There’s a bright optimism in his playing, a rolling thru the keys with ease. a slight bent towards the chordular, rather than all single notes. (Single notes? Think Bud Powell’s solos).  Like all the great jazz soloists, he finds ways to keep it compelling. No repetitious, riff driven piano that a lesser player would depend on to get through a lengthy solo, like on On Green Dolphin Street.  If push came to shove, he reminds me of the aforementioned Powell, but with a modern sensibility about the way he approaches the keys.

Written in 1953, Satin Doll could be an old cobweb of a tune, but not in the hands of The Three.  Brown opens with familiar notes, quickly followed by the standard melody line. After that, it’s the record’s dynamic musicians that take over both musically and in the record’s dynamic range. Both Sample and Manne take full advantage of the power that they can apply, hammering the keys and the skins to full effect. The level meters were probably nearing the redline during the recording process. And given that this is an analog record, they probably let them go red.

Ray Brown gets several opportunities to solo. It’s a nice break to hear him pluck his way over the fretboard, balanced against the free wheeling Manne and Sample.

There is a naturalness to his instrument that comes through. But as well-recorded as this LP is, he could be louder and fuller. Call it the limitations of the vinyl media of the era.

There are six terrific tunes here on what is one of the best jazz LPs of the 70s. No, it does not sound like a Blue Note or Prestige release from the 50s. It’s a modern performance and a modern recording. But for those of us who recall 70s jazz being about Bob James or Chuck Mangione, it’s a very pleasant surprise. I sure wish this band would have recorded more than one LP.

This 1978 Inner City version is the U.S. release of the 1976 East Wind (EW 10001) LP out of Japan. A CD version is out there, too. So you can find this one someplace if you look.

Got one minute and 40 seconds? Give a listen to this four song medley, direct from the LP!


Anything by Manne on the Contemporary label during the 1950s. Really!

Chain Reaction (Joe Sample and the Crusaders / Blue Thumb Records BTSD-6022, 1975, several other versions exist on MCA and Mobile Fidelity): Their best LP of pop-fusion jazz, with very tasty solos by guitarist Larry Carleton. After this, the Crusaders became more commercialized, and sold more records, too.

Carmel (Joe Sample / ABC Records AA-1126, 1979): More terrific work by Sample. Hard to characterize this recording. It’s jazz, but a little on the pop side. Still, his playing is beautiful.

Just Friends (Ray Brown / Concord CJD-1001, 1978) Interesting mix of musicians (guitarist Laurindo Almeida, saxophonist Bud Shank and drummer Jeff Hamilton) from the late 70s out of Los Angeles.

8 thoughts on “Found! The Three

  1. Hey dude, I wanted to read more about “The Three” but the link was dead. It led me to your site but no page found…OOPS! At any rate, glad to read your updates and I find them very interesting. Inner City, if you haven’t explored their other releases already, generally have top notch recording quality. I have a few Dexter Gordons on IC that are stunning. I don’t remember who recorded them or where the studios were, but I do know and remember that all the disks I’ve heard from them were exceptional. No audio activity on my end. Man after starting this job I’m beat…beat…beat every night. Can’t even solder the new filter caps into the Dynaco. Pretty weak, huh? So I still have no working amps. Did I mention that I dug out a Yamaha power amp and pre amp (don’t recall the model number but the power amp is humongous…I think probably from the 70’s or early 80’s….looks like 100 watts per side. The pre amp is I think their Natural Sound line. A former coworker gave them to me after the power amp smoked out. It kind of powers up, but I can see some leaking capacitors on the main board that I need to replace at minimum. Hopefully the transistors and such are OK). Cheap red wine suggestion – ever try the Conservatory Series by Concannon? They have a Meritage that’s pretty good. About $9 at Safeway. Wendy and I just got back from Tomales Bay and I found a couple of bottles of the Chez Pannise house red we’ll open up next time you’re around. M.



    • Sorry all, I didn’t mean to post this quite yet, so that’s why the link was initially dead. If you read the early version of the post, it’s been updated with new info. Hey, let me borrow those Dexter’s on IC and I’ll review ’em! Those old Yammie’s might be pretty darn good sounding. I read that the R-500 receiver out of that time period was their last musical amp.


      • Re your comment in paragraph two, this is in fact a direct-to-disc recording. Also in the CD recording there are 6 alternate takes of each tune! Joe Sample’s playing is quite a revelation too!!!


  2. Thanks for that, Ken. Didn’t know about all those alt takes on the CD version! The more I listen to Shelly, the more I think this LP was one of the pinnacles of his recording career…and maybe the same for Joe. I wonder if the Japanese version of this LP sounds better than the US?


    • Yes, I’m pretty sure the Japanese issue would sound better – they usually do!!!

      I agree this is one of Shelly’s best trio recordings but there’s an even better one, the incredibly rare “GEMINI THREE” on the Japanese Yupiteru label recorded in 1979 with Pete Jolly (P) and Chuck Berghofer (B). After years of searching I actually got this LP a couple of months ago – paid a small fortune for it so have dubbed it to CD and will be putting it back on Ebay next week to recoup some of my outlay! Have a look at the following:-

      Everything about this LP is fantastic – except for it’s price!!!!!!!!!!!! – and being as I’m a modern jazz musician playing Vibes and Drums it takes a lot to please me but this session really does it for me.



      • Never heard of Gemini Three, to no surprise! I’ll keep an eye out but won’t expect to see it locally. Yea, pretty pricey, way beyond anything I’ve ever paid for, vinyl-wise. Your band gotta website? No worries if not.


      • We don’t have a website but if you can give me your email address I’ll send you an MP3 clip from our latest CD.


      • Ken;
        Would you mind using my ‘contact’ page to send me a private email address, then I can respond with mine…(rather than post my email here).


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