Houston Person: The Opening Round

Both of these feature and were produced by tenor saxophonist Houston Person, a faithful perpetrator of unpretentious R&B stylings. On the first he is backed by Joey De Francesco on B3, Rodney Jones on guitar, and formidable drummer Bernard Purdie. Purdie’s relentless beat has distinguished an enormous number of recordings in this category. Jones picks songful notes but doesn’t contribute much rhythmic momentum. The young organist, who learned fast, sometimes gives his machine more steam than necessary, presumably not having fully digested the less-is-more teaching of McDuff and Basie. Person’s thick, unmannered tone, love of melody and swing, together give his music an odd sobriety that he seems compelled to relieve with fast flurries of notes. The record ends, believe it or not, with a melancholy, quietly convincing version of “Shenandoah!”

The title of the second set refers to Buddy Johnson, with whose band Etta Jones once sang and whose hits she affectionately revisits. Johnson’s band was very popular with black audiences at a time when jazz already was becoming too precocious for general consumption. The singer’s voice and accent have a period quality that gives her treatment a kind of authenticity, and she is well backed up by Person and a rhythm section in which Norman Simmons shines. The latter is an excellent accompanist and an engaging soloist, one whose reputation is ill-proportioned to his talent.