Collaborations are ubiquitous in jazz. Legendary ones are rarer, but still existent. When one of the two talents involved passes away and is survived by the other, many listeners refuse to let go of the memory and hold every succeeding project to the standards set by the collaboration. Saxophonist Houston Person escapes this predicament, but barely, not because of his talentwhich is abundantbut because of how darn good he and Etta Jones were together. Don't Misunderstand is a beautiful album that perfectly encapsulates the relationship that transformed two great, but distinct, talents into a duo with a place in jazz history.
Etta Jones and Houston Person began collaborating in 1968 until Jones passed away in 2001. Their partnership never seemed strained or divergent; it was organic and explosive and Don't Misunderstand, recorded in New York in the '80s, demonstrates the relationship perfectly. The richness and robustness of Jones' voice does not overpower the precision of Person's saxophone, but the converse also holds true; Jones' voice and Person's saxophone are complementary instruments, united to convey the yearning and subdued sensuality of the songs. On tracks like "Exactly Like You," however, they seem to compete, her voice earth-shattering and ethereal and his notes tender and passionate. It's a near perfect track, the highlight of the disc and a musical synopsis of their musical relationship. The arrangement in said relationship is obvious: Jones sang, Person played.
The liner notes for Thinking of You start off with the following statement: "Tenor player Houston Person sings." Surprised? Me too. It continues: "His voice, fat and juicy comes out of his tenor saxophone..." This was true in his collaboration with Jones and it remains true without her. On tracks like "Why Did I Choose You?" and "People," he exhibits a dexterity that most contemporary jazz musicians would envy, but listening to Thinking of You after listening to Don't Misunderstand leaves one with a nostalgic era, a golden one if you will, that was, isn't, yet somehow always will be.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Blue Monk; Don't Misunderstand; Exactly Like You; Ain't Misbehavin'; I Saw Stars; I'm Glad There Is You; Bluesology; Are You Real?.
Tracks: Rock Me to Sleep; People; Brazilian Emerald; Why Did I Choose You?; Black Coffee; Thinking of You; Medley: That Sunday That Summer/Funny; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Sing; Avant de Mourir (My Prayer); When October Goes.
Personnel: Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Eddie Allen: trumpet; John di Martino: piano; James Chirillo: guitar; Ray Drummond: bass; Willie Jones III: drums.
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