In the liner notes, Houston Person says, “Few people get into this kind of groove these days.” So true. It is the sensual, slightly sweaty, blues-based groove they used to call soul-jazz. It was central to the jazz art form (and to its commercial viability) in the 1960s. But in our current eclectic, experimental era, it is a quaint niche. When you hear an authentic voice of the genre like Person, you remember how easy it is to like this music.
On the opening “Come Rain or Come Shine,” Person never leaves the melody. But the gruff warmth of his tenor saxophone turns the song’s extravagant promise into a credible truth of the heart. The earthy, romantic, nocturnal atmosphere is sustained even as tempos shift among slow (“I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone”) and very slow (“Everything Must Change”) and medium-funky (“Learnin’ the Blues”). The program contains standards, old R&B hits and lost gems like “132nd and Madison,” by the great unsung pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs. His tune, with its infectious vamps, operates in a narrow zone between sinful pleasure and gospel. Person’s solo walks that fine line.
The members of Person’s sextet all speak this rich musical language as their native tongue. They are cornetist Warren Vaché, guitarist Rodney Jones, pianist Lafayette Harris, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Vincent Ector. But it is the leader, now 83, who lights up this album, all the way to the closing “Danny Boy,” which will melt the hardest of hearts. Person’s tenor sound is so human, and he tells the song’s old story with such honest empathy. Who knew that “Danny Boy” was waiting for a final summation straight from the soul?