Houston Person – The Melody Lingers On – HighNote HCD7269, 56:56 ****:

(Houston Person – tenor saxophone; Steve Nelson – vibraphone; Lafayette Harris – piano; Ray Drummond – bass; Lewis Nash – drums)

The word “stellar” is sometimes defined as ‘pertaining to a preeminent performer’.  If there is a better word to describe Houston Person and his playing it is yet to be found. On his most current release The Melody Lingers On, he leads the band through a series of trusty standards that give resonance to the word.

The Rodgers & Hart classic “My Funny Valentine” is generally played or sung as a torch ballad. However, if one forgets about the lyrics, it has all the elements for a solid swinger, which is how Person and the band lay the tune out with the tenor man leading the way. Much of what is called the Great American Songbook can be attributed to Rodgers & Hart and so it is not surprising that Person has chosen two other compositions from this duo, including a somewhat underplayed “You’re Nearer” which is done with a slightly Latin lilt. “Bewitched, Bothered, And Bewildered” was written for their 1940 musical Pal Joey and was made popular in 1941 by the Benny Goodman Orchestra with a vocal by Helen Forrest. Here vibraphonist Steve Nelson carries  the day, firstly as he runs through the verse alone, before the rhythm section comes in to pick him up as he dances up and down the vibes, then Person gives the bridge a stylish go around. But mostly this is Nelson’s number.

Minton’s was a night club in New York City that was the cradle for the bebop movement of the 1940s and remained in operation until 1974. Whether pianist and composer Danny Mixon ever played the venue is difficult to say, but he nevertheless he felt compelled to write a composition in its name. And a sprightly tune it is, with a frame that easily contributes to giving both Person and Nelson plenty of space to develop their ideas. Benny Carter and Sammy Cahn’s  “Only Trust Your Heart” is presented in a luscious reading in a bossa nova vein, with Lewis Nash’s drums laying the foundation for Person’s efforts, all the while Ray Drummond’s bass holds the beat through the rendition. So regardless of the composition that the band tackles, we are treated to  musicians who know their craft, and have a wealth of experience at their fingertips. The closer “You Can’t Lose With The Blues” has a no-nonsense solid groove, with an accommodating flow, full of muscular improvisations from everyone on the front line, in addition to a soulful piano solo from Lafayette Harris.

This release is a stellar collaboration from the entire band.

TrackList: My Funny Valentine; Gone Again; You’re Nearer; Minton’s; Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered; Only Trust Your Heart; They All Laughed; Try A Little Tenderness; The Song Is Ended; You Can’t Lose With The Blues

—Pierre Giroux