Almost 70, Houston Person is still carrying on the great tenor saxophone tradition that combines breathy soulfulness with blues-drenched, stomping swing. The lush-toned tenorist's latest release, Sentimental Journey, verifies his continuing command of the idiom. Ben Webster-like sultriness pervades ballads such as "Fools Rush In" and "I Love You, Yes I Do," where he sticks close to the melody, as well as "A Sunday Kind of Love," whose tune he slightly embellishes. But on the medium to up tunes, such as "It Had to Be You," "Canadian Sunset," "What'll I Do," Illinois Jacquet's "Black Velvet" and the title song, Person swings forcefully, imbuing his lines with a gritty earthiness.
Person's colleagues on the date constitute an all-star lineup. Pianist Richard Wyands, guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Grady Tate are all experienced, top-flight performers, as they prove throughout in their sensitive accompaniment for the tenorist as well as in their own plentiful solo spots.
It's an increasingly rare pleasure to hear a sensitive player like Houston Person pay respect to great melodies, rendering them essentially as written. But it's also good that his new record offers plenty of opportunities for straightahead blowing by some fine improvisers.