Norman Simmons In Private HighNote
Norman Simmons has been one of the most talented accompanying pianists for over fifty years, arranging and playing with instrumentalists Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw Davis, Ramsey Lewis, and singers Dakota Station, Ernestine Anderson, Carmen McRae, and Joe Williams, among many others. This recording, featuring bassist Lisle Atkinson and drummer Paul Humphrey, is appropriately titled because most of the songs were taped one late evening several years ago in the lobby of a hotel in Shinga, Japan, without an audience.
The group's rendition of "Stella By Starlight gains momentum chorus by chorus and swings with a steady flame. "My Melancholy Baby is laid back like a couple strolling in the park on a cloudy spring day, mood downcast, yet searching for a silver lining of reassuring love. Ellington's "Caravan is given a bolero feel by Humphrey.
The three gents are steady and tasteful, as on "Soft Wind, beginning with Humphrey on brushes, who then slides into swing on sticks. Michel Legrand's "How Do You Keep the Music Playing is given suitable delicate treatment, and a Brazilian medley of "Manha De Carnival and "Recado Bossa Nova is pleasant, although the otherwise stellar Atkinson seemed to have had some pitch issues when playing the initial melody on bow.
Most pleasing may be Simmons' solo numbers, "It Could Happen To You and "How Am I To Know, and an exploration into European Romanticism via "Chopin Waltz. Simmons' seasoned touch as an arranger, accompanist, and soloist all come together here and, thankfully, the trio's pleasure can become the listener's too.
Someone once said that jazz is the sound of surprise. Tenor man Houston Person, best known for his work with the late singer Etta Jones, demonstrates this truism to a tee on All Soul, featuring ten compositions across a spectrum of jazz styles and eras. He's joined by his touring rhythm section of pianist Stan Hope, bassist Per-Ola Gadd, and drummer Chip White, along with two guests. Eddie Allen joins Person up front on trumpet and plays sweetly on the title track and elsewhere. Guitarist Randy Johnston solos marvelously, his clear runs and harmonic sense blending in perfectly the whole way.
Person's own "Why Not and "Put It Right There serve as bookends for the date. In between, we are treated to Hank Mobley's "Bossa for Baby and Benny Carter's "Wonderland, featuring Person with a swagger, with White riding high hat in ringing tones. The drums are miked a bit too high and the bass too low, but that doesn't detract from the overall solid feel of this respectable record.
Person has a big, velvety sound, best heard on the soft "Let It Be Me. Miles Davis' modal classic "So What is a speedy treat, with swift solos by Person, Allen, Johnston, and Danish bassist Gadd, out front as Paul Chambers was on Kind of Blue. White's soulful "Time Stood Still begs for lyrics, which Person provides instrumentally by seeming to tell a tale to a woman about the first time they met and fell in love.
Ray Brown's "Two RB's, a favorite when Person's group plays live, is another that makes one toe-tap and head-shake. And just when one thought that no more surprises could surface, Person and Co. tackle Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love. Person's "Put It Right There is the kind of feel-good tune jazz musicians often use to close out live sets as well as recordings. By the time you finish listening, you'll be surprised and cheerful too.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Sushi Yama Blues; Stella by Starlight; My Melancholy Baby; It Could Happen To You; How Am I To Know; Caravan; Soft Wind; How Do You eep the Music Playing; Manha de Carnaval/Recado Bossa Nova; Chopin Waltz.
Personnel: Norman Simmons: piano; Lisle Atkinson: bass; Paul Humphrey: drums
Tracks: Why Not; All Soul; Bossa for Baby; Wonderland; Let It Be Me; So What; Time Stood Still; Two RBs; Please Give Me Someone to Love; Put It Right There.
Personnel: Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Eddie Allen: trumpet; Stan Hope: piano; Randy Johnston: guitar; Per-Ola Gadd: bass; Chip White: drums.