Houston Person: The Wizard of Jazz A Tribute to Harold Arlen, Well,Alright! Nancy Kelly Live, A Song For You
Peter Hand Big Band
As he continues on well into his 8th decade as the go-to tenor sax man, the always solid Houston Person remains a prolific and first-rate blues man. This latest trio of recordings attest to how effectively his spare, knowing blowing swings and heats a mood for both singer and song.
The Wizard of Jazz, a live recording by the Peter Hand Big Band, was part of the 2005 Centennial celebration of composer Harold Arlen. The Arlen oeuvre includes many classics, perhaps the most beloved being "Over the Rainbow". Despite his many scores for Hollywood musicals and successes on Broadway, Arlen never achieved the personal fame of peers such as Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter.
Arlen's early years as a jazz vocalist, pianist and bandleader enriched his music and what music it is! No one wrote as unhackneyed a blues melody as he, as evidenced by the sultry "Ill Wind". On this set Cecil Bridgewater's muted trumpet, paired with the silvery cascading of Richard Wyands' piano, makes for an especially sweet 'n hot combination. Another classic Arlen torch song is "The Man That Got Away," on which Houston Person's tenor sax performance possesses such a commanding, tender strength. It recalls shades of his earlier recording of this gem with his longtime vocal partner, the late great Etta Jones. The lighter, swinging side of Arlen is well celebrated as well with a bossa nova treatment of "Let's Fall in Love". Person shines here again as does Jim Rotondi with piercing changes on trumpet. For a distinctly bebop feel, there's an up-tempo version of "This Time the Dream's On Me," with Person taking the lead followed by a riveting trumpet solo by Valery Ponomarev.
Person "special guests" on Well, Alright!, Nancy Kelly's latest outing. It's no surprise that the vocalist has been compared to Anita O'Day, with whom she shares an innate sense of rhythm and ability to swing in a manner that radiates a uniquely American, throwaway sexiness. Those qualities are particularly evident on an old Peggy Lee tune, "I Love Being Here With You," as the lightness of silvery, cheery tones are as much a blues-and-soul drenched invitation as they are about just having FUN. She and Person go totally hand in glove with the Buddy Johnson blues of "Since I Fell For You". There's a fundamental optimism that permeates everything that Kelly sings. So even when she and Person dig deeply into this bluesand they doher survival never feels as if it is ultimately in doubt. Theirs is also mutual, deep and shared feeling for gospel that is masterfully evident on "Let It Be Me". Person follows her verse with a solo that seems to leave nothing to be said. Yet then Kelly tears back in for a scorching second round as Person blows even hotter into a tight, take-no-prisoners finale. Theirs is a demonstration of just how happy things can get with the blues.
Another different and no less syntonic a pairing is that of Person with R&B vocal legend Ernestine Anderson on A Song For You. With Todd Barkan producing the set, this really feels like a gathering of eagles abetted by the presence of an expert young trio. In the hands of these masters, familiar tunes take on new life. There's Adamson-McHugh's 1943 Sinatra hit, "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening," on which Anderson and Person eschew the earlier dreamy dreamland approach for a swinging easy take. With Lafayette Harris, Jr.'s piano providing a romping intro for Anderson's airy approach, they are further punctuated by not one unessential toot from Person. Just listen to Anderson's phrasing on "Candy" as she moans and stretches out, "I've got a sweeeeet tooth for my candy." Person blows heat onto that sugar, even as Harris plays underneath with total discretion in the presence of such markedly libidinal exchanges. On a classic ballad like "For All We Know," Anderson's delivery is evidence of how completely she conveys the meaning of a song through both the melody and the lyrics. It's there as she holds a note for emphasis and then pauses, such as in a bridge of "We won't say goodnight...until the last minute". And with "We come...and we...go". Ernestine, you get to me, you do. It's a dwindling few vocalists who display such mastery these days. And of course here again, Person proves to be the partner of preference as his sax becomes the singer's second voice. Or is she his? Whatever. It's just really quite magical and perfect.
Tracks and Personnel
The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen (feat. Houston Person)
Tracks: Come Rain or Come Shine; Ill Wind; This Time The Dream's On Me; The Man That Got Away; Let's Fall In Love; Stormy Weather; Blue Jug/Harold's Blues; Over the Rainbow.
Personnel: Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Kenny Berger, Don Braden, Ralph LaLama, Brad Leali,Mike Migliori: saxophones and reeds; Cecil Bridgewater, Brian Pareschi, Valery Ponomarev, Jim Rotondi: trumpets, flugelhorns; Sam Burtis, John Mosca, Jim Pugh: trombones; Peter Hand: guitar; Richard Wyands: piano; Harvie S: bass; Steve Johns: drums.
Well, Alright!: Live! with Houston Person
Tracks: But Not For Me; I Wish You Love; Who Can I Turn To?; I Only Have Eyes For You; I Love Being Here With You; Let's Fall In Love; For Once In My Life; Alright, Okay, You Win; Since I Fell For you; Let It Be Me; Fine and Mellow.
Personnel: Nancy Kelly: vocals; Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Randy Halberstadt: piano; Jeff Johnson: bass, Gary Hobbs: drums
A Song For You
Tracks: This Can't Be Love; A Song For You; Make Someone Happy; Skylark; This Is A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening; Candy; Day By Day; For All We Know.
Personnel: Ernestine Anderson: vocals; Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Lafayette Harris Jr.: piano; Chip Jackson: bass; Willie Jones III: drums.