Rarely has ‘art and soul’ been a more apt description for a musical collection. Houston Person plays saxophone with sublime artistry and a very, very deep soul indeed.
Gathered here in a deluxe package are Person’s own selections from a dozen discs recorded for the New York-based HighNote label, as well as four new tunes recorded specifically for this project. With 30 tracks spread evenly over three CD’s, it’s a monumental survey of the Great American Songbook, ranging from the instantly recognizable to lesser-known tunes from Tin Pan Alley.
Person is a gentleman of jazz, a straight-ahead player who honors these magnificent melodies with a seemingly effortless approach that‘s elegantly sensuous and unabashedly romantic. There’s a smooth, creamy warmth to his tone, but a decidedly muscular undercurrent keeps saccharine sweetness firmly at bay.
With tracks spanning a full 12 years, backing musicians obviously vary from session to session, but there’s a pleasing cohesiveness thanks to the ubiquitous presence of legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder, responsible for recording everything here. The cast includes many of New York’s finest, with appearances by drummers Grady Tate and Kenny Washington, pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Ron Carter, and guitarist Russell Malone. All offer superbly understated, gently swinging support – Person is generous with solos, but the emphasis is clearly on tasteful accompaniment rather than dazzling performances.
All the songs are taken at medium or ballad tempo, allowing Person to explore and elaborate on melodic themes with unhurried ease. His lines are resolutely lyrical, gently toying with the tunes yet never compromising on the essential structure. He reflects upon rather than re-invents each composition, his playing on ballads a silky caress while the mid-tempo tunes swing sprightly.
In short, there are no big surprises here, and nothing terribly challenging. It’s just gorgeous music played with exquisite taste and an emphasis on the sheer beauty of timeless tunes. Mr. Person delivers a lifetime’s worth of listening pleasure here … highly recommended!