With an increasing emphasis on high-priced concert venues and large summer festivals, one forgets that for the longest time jazz resided in the not-quite-PC environment of the smoky bar. And while there's nothing wrong with jazz reaching a larger public through bigger venues, there's something about the ambience of a club that's lost in larger, more opulent settings. Hearing a great band in a club was always an event, but more intimate, more relaxed. Every now and then, though, an album comes along that evokes such a strong visual of those crowded rooms that all you have to do is close your eyes and you can hear the ice rattling in the glasses and see the smoke wafting to the rafters.
Tenor saxophonist Houston Person spent a lot of years in those clubs, many of them side-by-side with singer Etta Jones, their careers inextricably linked for over thirty years until Jones' passing in '01. In a career filled with highs, one thing that made Jones and Person so well-known was their commitment to playing in smaller neighbourhood clubs that others would pass by. With To Etta With Love Person delivers a bittersweet love letter that has all the dusky ambience of one of those dimly-lit establishments. By selecting ten songs that were performed with Jones, Person creates an homage that is tender and sentimental without being saccharine or maudlin.
The programme includes the poignant ballads "Don't Go to Strangers" and "It's Magic," the lightly swinging "Love Walked In," and the bossa-tinged "For All We Know." Person's tone, impeccably captured by legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder, combines a lush timbre with a certain fragile delicacy. Many of Person's own recordings over the years have been in the blues-jazz vein, and even when tackling more standard fare, his sound drips with soul. With solos that, for all their exploration, never forget the essence of the tune's melody, Person shows a respect for the material that some artists tend to forget.
Reconvening the same group that recorded '03's Social Call pianist Stan Hope, guitarist Paul Bollenback, bassist Per-Ola Gadd and drummer Chip WhitePerson has a sympathetic and empathic rhythm team. Bollenback in particular is a standout with an approach that combines the simple soul of Grant Green with the more advanced bop concept of Kenny Burrell, especially on "Since I Fell For You," where his blues roots are clear. Gadd and White are so relaxed as to be almost invisible, felt more than heard in a way that moves the body without thinking.
With many of the old school beginning to pass awayElvin Jones, Steve Lacy and Ray Charles in recent timesit's vital that younger listeners be aware of the vibrant history that has brought jazz to where it is today. To Etta With Love combines rich history with tribute, evocatively showing just how much the landscape of jazz has changed.
Personnel: Houston Person (tenor saxophone), Stan Hope (piano), Paul Bollenback (guitar), Per-Ola Gadd (bass), Chip White (drums)