The phrase “age before beauty” does not apply to the duet partnership of tenor saxophonist Houston Person and acoustic bassist Ron Carter. Sure, Remember Love is the first of their six pairings on record to occur when both are octogenarians. Yes, seven of the eight covers are more than 65 years old, and the other, Luis Bonfá’s bossa nova “Gentle Rain,” was written in 1965. Yet all that history is mere backdrop to better admire the beauty, the organic profundity of their musical conversations.
A particularly notable charm of their combination is that Carter, the ostensible “rhythm” player, is the alpha figure. Houston Person will forever be recognized for his enveloping sound and reliably melodic approach, the plush tone and slyly inventive romanticism he derives from his horn. It’s as majestic and roomy as a yacht, providing Carter the space to roam freely while piling up deftly sophisticated incisions and counterpoints to both his partner’s robust saxophone phrases and the venerable songs at hand.
On “Day Dream,” the Ellington/Strayhorn vehicle for Johnny Hodges, Person limns his breathy, extended notes with a purposeful wheeze. When Carter starts to quicken the pace and then notably bends a plucked note, Person pauses a beat, then ventures a shard of the melody, quickly echoed by Carter, who starts scampering while Person lowers his volume but continues to pave the song forward. There are literally dozens of these gloriously intimate exchanges.
Sometimes their dual engagement perpetually holds sway—the entirety of “The Way You Look Tonight” has the sprightly élan of parents of the bride giddily summoning their most acute dance instincts at a wedding reception. Sometimes one or the other, but mostly Carter, seizes the reins for an imaginative flight that is an object lesson on how craft becomes art. Conservatory professors of the acoustic bass could play Carter’s nearly six-minute solo rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” to their students and take the rest of the week off. And yet on Person’s original, “Why Not,” Carter plays the same, penetrating, three-note riff eleven straight times, a totally different, more unexpected, creative gambit. Nothing is off limits.