Monday, January 11, 2016

Houston Person on Muse Records

Houston Person (Photo: Gene Martin)
Today, in the latest issue of Down Beat magazine, I read a review of saxophonist Houston Person's new album, Something Personal, that calls the CD "an especially swingin' brand of dinner jazz" and awards it 3 and a half stars out of 5. I won't argue with Michael Jackson—such is the reviewer's name—because I haven't listened to Person's new studio effort yet, but I've never known the South Carolina-born tenorist to have recorded anything less than satisfying. Person's powerful attack and soulful style have garnered him comparisons with Coleman Hawkins and Gene Ammons, and one can also hear a little touch of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis here and there, particularly when his recordings feature organ accompaniment, which is quite often. In those cases, it's impossible to listen to Person and not be reminded of the many records that Jaws and organist Shirley Scott cut together. Person spent part of his stint in the Army stationed in Germany, where he was very active as a musician, and upon his return to civilian life, he worked with organist Johnny "Hammond" Smith before leading his own bands and forming a musical partnership with the singer Etta Jones. His first album came out in 1966, and throughout his long career he has recorded in a variety of settings and has even done some production work, though most of his best recordings are the ones he has made with small groups, creating a very appealing sound derived from blues and soul.

The recent Down Beat review somehow put me in the mood to dust off my favorite CD by Person, A Little Houston on the Side (Savoy Jazz), which contains a cross-section of his work for the Muse label between the 1970s and the 1990s. There isn't a single superfluous track on this compilation, and the first two tunes already make it clear that Person's music is deeply rooted in the blues—"Walking the Dog" is a standout, with Jack McDuff on organ and Ron Bridgewater engaging in some inventive tenor dialogues with Person, and "Late Night Lullaby," a Person original, is an irresistible slice of mid-tempo blues. Person tips his hat to John Coltrane with a reading of Trane's "Equinox" that proves he also feels comfortable within the framework of hard bop, and Sonny Rollins's "Blue Seven" is a duet between Person and bassist Ron Carter, who collaborated on quite a few sides for the Muse label. There's also room for ballads, such as "I Remember Clifford" and "My Romance"—in the former Person sounds breathy and sweet, while on the latter his approach is much more passionate and vibrant. Charles Brown appears on vocals on "Sweet Slumber" and, of course, Person's longtime partner, Etta Jones, handles the singing on a lovely version of "Laughing at Life." Other musicians that accompany the tenorist on these 11 selections include, among others, Richard "Groove" Holmes and Joey DeFrancesco (organ), Red Callender and Milt Hinton (bass), and Grady Tate and Kenny Washington (drums). Without a doubt, this is one of the best collections currently available for anyone interested in getting acquainted with the magnificent music of Houston Person.

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