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Houston Person is like fine wine, he simply gets better with age and his latest release Naturally shows there is plenty of gas still left in the tank! Of course a backing trio of Cedar Walton, Ray Drummond and Lewis Nash help turn this into a stellar quartet for the ages. In short, Houston Person is my musical easy button.
The HighNote family of labels consistently turns out top quality recordings and the sound quality is every bit as instrumental (no pun intended) as the tunes chosen for this stellar session. Engineered, mixed and mastered by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder would be enough for most jazz aficionados but Person's equally prolific talent is up for the task while running the sonic table from "Bags Groove" to "Red Sails In The Sunset." One would be hard pressed to come up with a more versatile tenor player than Person. There is a refined soulful quality to the Person sound, a swing that comes at you straight from the heart. Performances by pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Lewis Nash simply make a good thing even better.
There are only three ballads on this release and most pianists and drummers would agree that under certain circumstances a release overly burdened with a plethora of ballads can be the musical equivalent of a long slow death, Cedar Walton and Lewis Nash never lose the groove and Ray Drummond is a lyrical bassist beyond reproach. "My Foolish Heart" is one of the three ballads and is a perfect contrast to the opening burner of "Bag's Groove." The oldest tune here dates back to 1926 and was co-written by the great Jule Styne titled "Sunday." One of the more elegant moments of this gem is the standard "That's All" which in Person's hands becomes reinvented with a beautiful soulful quality never attempted. All the stars were in perfect alignment for this recording.
Perhaps the extraordinary aspect of this recording is that Person came in "cold." No charts, no preconceived ideas, notions or arrangements just pure passion. The set list while somewhat familiar to most is also bordering on the eclectic and that seems to be Person's "m.o." This is a beautiful thing, instead of being treated to a predictable set of shop worn standards we receive nine stellar tunes all built around a beautiful melody and a subtle sense of swing that is ever present in virtually all Houston Person recordings that come to mind. A more versatile tenor player on the planet? Good luck...Easily one of my year end "Best Of's" for 2012.
Tracks: Bag's Groove; That's All; How Little We Know; Namely You; My Foolish Heart; Red Sails In The Sunset; Don' Cha Go Way Mad; It Shouldn't Happen To A Dream; Sunday.
Personnel: Houston Person: tenor saxophone; Cedar Walton: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.