What's a sure way to make a pretty good tenor saxophone-led quartet even better? Simple. Invite a second tenor and make sure his name is Houston Person
. That's what Denver-based Keith Oxman
has done to further enhance his quartet's splendid new album, Two Cigarettes in the Dark
, sharing the front line with Person on six of the session's ten tracks. To say that Person brightens every number he's on would be understating the case; as the saying goes, he could make a phone book sound interesting.
That's not to say the recording lacks merit in his absence. Oxman is a superb player in his own right, his lighter, post-bop narratives deftly complementing Person's more sonorous, blues-based manifestos. (There's no need for notes to identify who is soloing when.) While Oxman says his mentors include the great John Coltrane
, melodically and technically he brings to mind a celebrated contemporary, Eric Alexander
. In terms of excellence, no more need be said. As for Person, now in his mid-eighties, the South Carolinian has been a prominent standard-bearer on the jazz scene for more than half a century and proves here that he has neither lost a step nor skipped a beat.
And then there's that remarkably able rhythm section: not widely known but nonetheless alert, secure and supportive. Pianist Jeff Jenkins
comps and solos with aplomb, while bassist Ken Walker
and drummer Paul Romaine
set an unerring rhythmic compass, giving Oxman and Person all the support they need. There are two vocals, by Oxman's longtime friend and collaborator Annette Murrell
, whose cool, sultry voice adorns the standards "Everything Happens to Me" and "Crazy He Calls Me." Oxman wrote the album's even-tempered finale, "Murrellancholy," as a salute to her balladic artistry. And speaking of writing, Oxman is well above average in that area too. In fact, his three compositions ("Voss Is Boss" and "Murphy's Law Impacts L.E.A.P." are the others), on which his tenor is the only horn, are among the album's highlights, notwithstanding Person's absence.
Elsewhere, Person is very much engaged, starting with the handsome opener, Frank Loesser's "I've Never Been in Love Before" and including Hank Mobley
's unhurried "Bossa for Baby," Johnny Griffin
's groovy "Sweet Sucker" (which would have fit quite snugly into a Prestige or Blue Note album from the 1960s, as would Jenkins' funky "Wind Chill") and the debonair title song, which Oxman says is one of the few tunes Person hadn't heard before. Welcome to the club, Houston. And welcome, Keith Oxman and company, to the spacious catalog of well-planned and well-performed mainstream albums by quartet with guest artist. May you find some self-assurance and elbow room there.
I've Never Been In Love Before; Voss is Boss; Everything Happens to Me; Two Cigarettes In the Dark; Bossa for Baby; Murphy's Law Impacts L.E.A.P.; Crazy He Calls Me; Wind Chill; Sweet Sucker; Murrellancholy.