Houston Person – Mellow – High Note

by | Nov 11, 2009 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Houston Person – Mellow – High Note HCD 7206, 55:43 ****:

(Houston Person, tenor sax; John DiMartino, piano; James Chirillo, guitar; Ray Drummond, bass; Lewis Nash, drums)

The word “mellow” gets a bad rap these days. It must be that it is so associated with smooth jazz, the genre of jazz which sticks around like a bad cold. Mellow too often means lack of soul, improvisation, and imagination – sort of like the elevator music you hear in the background in restaurants and shopping malls.

For an established veteran jazz musician like the big toned old school tenor master Houston Person, mellow means the best of soulful ballads. Although Person makes standard fare seem easy to play, it’s just because he was raised on In a Mellow Tone, What a Difference a Day Made, Who Can I Turn To, and God Bless the Child. Person can continue to make these familiar standards special by the soulfulness he brings to the table, and with his warm and inviting full bodied tone. It’s the difference between a light beer and a rich stout. You know when you listen to Houston emote that he pours himself into his playing, and what sounds effortless is a lifetime both backing singers like Etta Jones, and playing with Hammond B-3 masters. He creates a mood that warms a room and lets the listener unwind and relax knowing that they have come to the jazz soul source.

Where Mellow is different than most Person sessions is that it has no real burners, mixed with an equal portion of ballads. It is most entirely what would be deemed “comfort food,” as it sets a relaxed groove and doesn’t let go. Person is matched with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Lewis Nash, a natural match for Houston. Nash does spur on Houston with a steady cymbal driven base to dig in and create a groove, such as on Sunny. James Chirillo, on guitar, adds to the mood with straight ahead lines and John DiMartino is sparkling on piano. I’ve heard Person play Sunny many times, and I never tire of his rich old school emotion. Every once in a while, he struts and picks up the pace. Too Late Now is throaty with vibrato and goes down like fine-aged scotch.

Mellow was engineered, mixed and mastered by the inimitable Rudy Van Gelder, and Van Gelder has handled probably thousands of sessions going back to the early 50s that have the feel of authenticity that Houston Person brings to this June 23, 2009 recording. When you deal with pros like Person, you don’t need many takes and a single day is all that is necessary with this quintet.

Mellow makes an appropriate wintertime purchase for Person fans. Throw a log on the fire, kick back with your favorite warming-beverage and let one of the last remaining 60s soul jazz tenors bring some relaxed pleasure to these hectic times. It’s just what the doctor ordered to cure the cold weather chill.

TrackList: Sunny, Too Late Now, In a Mellow Tone, To Each His Own, What a Difference a Day Made, Two Different Worlds, Blues in the AM, Who Can I Turn To?, God Bless the Child, Lester Leaps In

– Jeff Krow

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