Houston Person with Ron Carter
In the 1980s, tenor saxophonist Houston Person and bassist Ron Carter recorded a pair of unlikely but successful duo albums. Person, who has mostly been heard through the years with organ groups, piano trios, and accompanying the late singer Etta Jones, has a large tone worthy of Gene Ammons, while Ron Carter (who has played with everyone) clearly had a good time interacting with Person in the sparse format. In 1990, Person and Carter recorded their third duet album, and the results are at least as rewarding as their first two collaborations. On such songs as "Doxy," "Dear Old Stockholm," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," and "Mack the Knife," Person and Carter swing hard and sound at their most playful and creative in each other's company. They both sound inspired by this setting (where every sound counts) and play with full confidence; there is not a single hesitant moment. This is a particularly memorable and enjoyable effort that features the two musicians at their best.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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The artful duets of Houston Person and Ron Carter epitomize jazz in its purest form. This sparse setting of horn and bass, their third such album, is a showcase for their mutual flexibility on solo exchanges, counterpoint dialogue and elegant harmony.
Tenor saxophonist Houston Person began honing his soulful sound in the late '50s, working mainly in blues-oriented organ combos. This training served Houston well, for the communicative qualities inherent in the blues were soon to become his trademark. His robust solo style has a brawny funk-feel that consistently creates a hard-swinging groove but, at the same time, when he explores a ballad, the sound turns warm and reflective, filled with remarkable tonal variations and clever subtleties. Whether it is as a headliner on the international festival scene, a guest artist, fronting his own band or enhancing a vocalist (as he did for 30 years with the late, lamented Etta Jones in addition to many others), Houston Person is the consummate jazz artist.
Since the early '60s, bassist Ron Carter has played on hundreds of recordings, and was part of the new and freer-sounding rhythm section on Miles Davis' mid-'60s tour. Through the decades, Ron continually reinvented himself in various-sized ensembles, and became known for his impeccable sense of time and incredible solo tone.
Houston and Ron first performed together in the 1970s, and then became friends and Scrabble opponents while touring Japan in the '80s. When they found they had a lot in common musically, both being deeply rooted in swing, gospel, blues and funk, Houston suggested they record a duo album, followed by a second collaboration.
"I like playing as a duo-it frees up the sound," says Houston of their alliances. "It's just two people communicating. We follow each other, one taking the other to the next movement."
Logically, Houston's horn establishes the melody on most of the tunes, Ron injecting variations. But the reverse also occurs in this free-form setting, so it's challenging to figure out who is leading whom as these jazz explorers travel without a map.
Throughout the eight tracks, these assertive improvisers are two minds working as one. There were no arrangements or rehearsals for the studio session, the pair relying on eye contact for the musical shifts. "It's the best way to communicate, giving each other signals and clues," says Houston. "Usually I state the melody and Ron does what he wants. And, in turn, when he wants to take me somewhere, I go."
The charts were ones both enjoy and have played in larger ensembles. "I like to play them with just the bass because we can do different things," says Houston.
For the upbeat reading of "Doxy," Houston opens the melody against a walking bass line. Then Ron improvises, which leads to intriguing segments of traded fours and twos before their unison exit. Houston's dynamic fluency also propels an upbeat reading of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," opening it for Ron's graceful ideas.
But Ron takes early control of the lead line of "I Remember Clifford." His lustrous resonance improvises the horn line while Houston assumes a low-register accompaniment. Houston said he'd always wanted to hear Ron play this melody, and it's a surprising and successful change.
"Dear Old Stockholm" displays the most complex interaction, with Ron laying down the foundation for Houston's take-off on the theme. "We took different parts of the Miles Davis arrangement for this," explains Houston, "with Ron playing the introduction and the interludes between the melody and we continue in like manner throughout the performance.
Houston had played Ron's beautiful original, "Mr. Bow Tie" (titled for his longtime nickname) with a full band on one of Ron's albums, but wanted to try it in a duo setting. It was a terrific idea, Ron's fluid grace and solid rhythmic skill supporting Houston's romantic lyricism.
Houston is the consummate balladeer on "I Fall in Love Too Easily" as he delivers the melody with supple sensuality. Later, he offers a heart-rending blues reading of Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good," while Ron expresses a pensive sadness that is communicated even without hearing the lyrics.
Their most surprising foray is "Mack the Knife," with Ron establishing the melody to set up a dialogue that evolves into a series of relay-style exchanges approaching exuberance. This song was on their first album, but here, it appears as a mirror image of that performance since Houston, on that recording played the melody.
This album is the perfect "three-quel" for an ever-evolving collaboration, complementing the release of "Something in Common" in 1990 (winner of an "Indie" award for Independent Jazz Record of the Year) and "Now's the Time" in 1993.
-Patricia Myers (Jazz journalist, USA/Europe)