Tough tenors were a staple diet for many jazz listeners in the 1960s. Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Arnett Cobb and so many others (the list could literally fill a ledger pages long) took ample measures of blues and soul-derived emotion and combined them with a no-nonsense emphasizing the tenor horn’s naturally sensual properties. While arguably not as well known, Houston Person belongs among their number. Fielding a sassy, vibrato-flecked tone and a biting, soulful lexicon of blues phrases the South Carolina native was custom tailored for the soul jazz market the Prestige brass had him pegged for. This recent Fantasy double feature gathers two of his late Sixties efforts for the label, the woefully dated (at least in terms of title) Chocomotive and Trust In Me. It’s interesting to note the differences in engineering techniques between the two sessions. The first, recorded in New York, has an echo-like studio resonance and brittleness to the drums, which is decidedly absent in the second, taped at the Van Gelder sanctum sanctorum.
Walton is the common denominator between the dates and his tasteful, but often-funky piano works well as the rhythmic ringleader. Alan Dawson, best known as a drummer, adds his skills on vibraphone to the first session and ends up annexing nearly as much solo space as the leader. Person sounds more than willing to defer and his own solos are made all the more emphatic by the resulting economy. Taking flight on a sustained press roll from Jones the band soars through the title track. Cranshaw’s fatback amplified strings vibrate through a brisk solo and Person’s elevated horn resumes its exploration of the firmament. Even the ballad numbers, like “Since I Fell For You” wail as Person injects just the right of tonal grit into lines already saturated with visceral emphaticism. Walton’s gorgeously executed turn on this track, shored up by asides from Dawson’s mallets, sets the disc’s standard for soulful interaction.
The tunes on Trust In Me are shorter in duration, but even more rhythmically oriented. The venerable (at 32!) Paul Chambers takes over the bass chair from Cranshaw and Ralph Dorsey’s simple percolating conga patterns augment the regular traps work of Lenny McBrowne. Standards provide the bulk of blowing material and everyone in the group seems at ease running through the routine changes. Person’s tone is less resounding, in part due to the improved fidelity, and the increased clarity lends his lines even greater potency. Highlights include the brisk opening “One Mint Julep” with another colorful contribution from Walton and the smoldering Latinized romance of “Hey There” where the rhythm section really shines. Person may be considered something of second-string player in the original tough tenor ranks, but this collection denotes that such a distinction still carries considerable weight.
Prestige on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com
Houston Person- tenor saxophone; Cedar Walton- piano; Alan Dawson- vibes*; Bob Cranshaw- bass*; Frankie Jones- drums*; Paul Chambers- bass; Lenny McBrowne- drums; Ralph Dorsey- conga. Recorded: June 14* and October 13, 1967.
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