Easy Living, Etta Jones’ wonderful new CD, is a celebration of a reunion and a partnership. The partnership is, of course, Ms. Jones’ longstanding collaboration with Houston Person. Mr. Person has played on and/or produced nearly all of Ms. Jones’ recordings since 1976. The reunion is with pianist Richard Wyands who in 1960 played for Ms. Jones on her breakthrough album, Don’t Go To Strangers.
Ms. Jones’ nasal, instantly identifiable tone has only grown richer and more textured with age. Stylistically, she occupies the middle ground between Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. Ms. Jones tends to bend pitch radically and the slow deliberation of her ballad singing is somewhat reminiscent of Lady Day’s 1950s recordings. However, her affinity for the Blues comes out in the searing intensity of her singing and her habit of forcefully punching out a particular note or word. On up-tempo pieces, she swings hard and phrases with an almost joyful abandon. Ms. Jones breaks lyrics into short phrases that on paper might bear little relationship to proper conversational syntax. However, through the alchemy of art, she makes the meaning of every song utterly explicit and delivers lyrics with an honesty that defies traditional notions of interpretation. In fact, of today’s jazz singers, only Abbey Lincoln can match the sheer authority of Ms. Jones’ singing.
This CD, like nearly every Etta Jones record, contains songs associated with Billie Holiday (“Easy Living” and a deeply swinging “Did I Remember?”) and Nat Cole (the obscure “I Thought You Ought to Know”). She resurrects a little known Victor Young gem, “Our Very Own,” and turns up the tempo on two songs almost always performed as ballads, “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Who Can I Turn To?” the Newley/Bricusse not the Alec Wilder tune). Mr. Person, one of the giants of the tenor saxophone, plays with exceptional grace and lyricism throughout the album. The depth of his collaboration with Ms. Jones especially shines through on the ballads. Ms. Jones and Mr. Person lend an unexpected resonance to “Something to Remember You By” and they deliver a powerful, near-definitive version of “I’m Afraid of the Masquerade Is Over.” Mr. Wyands and bassist Ray Drummond also take good advantage of their opportunities to solo.
Etta Jones has been a professional singer for over 56 years and her first recordings with Mr. Wyands and Mr. Person were 40 and 26 years ago respectively. However, Easy Living proves the truth behind the old adage that there really are some things that do get better with age.
Personnel: Etta Jones: vocals; Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Richard Wyands: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Chip White: drums.