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November 2005

Stan Hope
Put On a Happy Face
Savant

This is an amiable and unremarkable piano trio session, with Houston Person sitting in on tenor saxophone on three numbers. It is a conscientious project, with clean sound (engineering, mixing and mastering by Rudy Van Gelder) and impeccable support from bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington. In his three appearances, Person sounds a little like every soul saxophonist you've ever heard. Yet his voluptuous middle register and suavely confident obbligato lend credence to his every utterance, making you crave more soul saxophone.

On the seven tracks without Person, this album diminishes into polished, high-quality background music. Stan Hope possesses a spare style and a sprightly sense of swing. His interpretation of every song is so down the middle, and his ideas so unsurprising, that his segues from theme statements to embellishments go almost unnoticed. Liner note author David Jaye talks about Hope's propensity for "rarely heard classics of American music," especially ballads. Indeed, songs like "My Ship" and "Somewhere in the Night" are pleasant choices, even if Hope's renditions are plain vanilla. Jaye goes too far, though, when he claims that this album's title track has been unfairly passed over by jazz improvisers: Conventional wisdom isn't always wrong.

Originally published in November 2005
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