Houston Person: The Melody Lingers On

Here’s veteran reedman Houston Person rolling in the deep again, his tone resonant as ever, his primary focus the Great American Songbook and its enduring lyricism. Unmistakably in his element, relaxed and yet fully engaged, the tenor saxophonist is clearly inspired not only by the stream of mostly classic melodies that comprise this collection, but also by the close kinship of vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist Lafayette Harris Jr., bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Lewis Nash.

Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, George Gershwin and Benny Carter are among the composers represented, and though the session opens on a vibrant note, with an unusually swift “My Funny Valentine,” the album’s most enjoyable performances come later: “Gone Again,” poignant and insinuating; “They All Laughed,” lighthearted and light-footed; “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” artfully illuminated (and shaded) by Nelson’s vibes. Another highlight, “Try a Little Tenderness,” provides an insinuating showcase for Person’s tenor. Solos fashioned by Nelson and Harris consistently add color and verve to the performances, and Person always benefits from the group’s rhythmic assurance and agility. Capping the session (and seemingly penned for Person’s robust tenor) is Harris’ pitch-perfect after-hours coda “You Can’t Lose With the Blues.”

In his liner notes, Doug Ramsey traces the provenance of some lesser-known tunes. In doing so he sheds considerable light on why Person’s interpretations come across as unmistakably heartfelt and soulful-and why the album’s title could scarcely be more apt.

Mike Joyce

A former editor of JazzTimes, Mike Joyce has written extensively on jazz, blues, country, and pop music for The Washington Post, Maryland and Washington, D.C. public television stations, and other outlets.