Thursday, December 17, 2009

Houston Person Featured on Harold Arlen tribute

I have become a huge fan of Houston Person over the past few years, and he certainly merits acclaim as one of the great tenor saxophonists. A master of blues and ballads, he is showcased on a marvelous tribute to Harold Arlen by guitarist Peter Hand's Big Band. This review written for Jazz & Blues Report but it has not run yet.

Guitarist Peter Hand has years of performing and writing experience and in more recent years put together several larger ensembles including his big band that has a notable roster of players including saxophonists, Kenny Berger, Don Braden, Ralph LaLama, Mike Migliore; Trumpeters and flugelhornists, Cecil Bridgewater, Valery Ponamarev, Jim Rotondi; and pianist Richard Wyands, to name some of the more recognizable names. For a concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Birth of Harold Arlen, held at Irvington Town hall Theater on April 22, 2005, he also added Houston Person as featured guest where they ran through some of Arlen’s most beloved compositions such as “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Ill Wind,” Let’s Fall in Love,” Stormy Weather,” and “Over the rainbow.” The Peter Hand Big Band’s concert was recorded and Savant has released it “The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen.”

Any album featuring Houston Person is going to benefit form his warm, rich tone and the melodic quality of his improvisations and this comes to the fore early with his opening statement in then opening “Come Rain or Come Shine,” with interesting orchestral interjections to spice things up with some nice solos also from Hand and pianist Wyands. On the ballad “Ill Wind,” Person’s romantic playing evokes Ben Webster although his tone is feathery compared to the heavy vibrato Webster employed. Bridgewater has a lovely muted trumpet solo here. Hand in his annotation notes that the rendition of the ballad “This Time’s The Dream’s On Me,” is an uptempo one inspired by the Charlie Parker recording with Valery Ponamarev sparkling on his solo, while Person’s ballad playing once again is at front for “The Man That Got Away,” written for the 1955 film version of “A Star is Born,” and Person’s familiarity with this comes from the many years he played this with the late great Etta Jones. Special kudos here for the marvelous arrangement with Hand and Wyands making some nice contributions in the background. The bossa nova arrangement enlivens “Let’s Fall in Love,” with Don Braden’s snake charming soprano sax solo, and Jim Rotondi adding some blistering trumpet. “Stormy Weather” is among Arlen’s most famous songs and Person is magnificent here on an arrangement built upon that used by Person for his small group performances. One performance is a ringer, being a medley of Person’s “Blue Jug” and Hand’s “Harold Blues,” which is a lengthy blues jam with a number of different soloists (one of the trumpeters quotes “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”), with Person taking his last. The performance closes with an unaccompanied Houston Person performance of “Over the Rainbow.” Having an opportunity to listen to a number of recent Houston Person recordings in the past several years, he has become a favorite who can constantly be counted on for swinging tenor sax deep in the blues and a master of the ballad which is showcased as the special guest of Peter Hand’s marvelous big band for a thoroughly captivating recording.

For FTC purposes I was provided the review copy from Jazz & Blues Report which recived it from the record label.

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