Your Rifftides host tries to keep up with the relentless inflow of albums. The effort is doomed, of course, but it’s great fun to keep at it. Here are thoughts about two more or less recent arrivals.
Houston Person, Something Personal (High Note)
The clever album title stands as a fair description of the tenor saxophonist’s approach. Person is a melodist who finds the heart and essence of a tune and, within a few notes, puts his trademark on it. His choice of songs here is as satisfying as his choice of colleagues. As annotator Willard Jenkins suggests, Person internalizes what he plays—from the harmonic content to the flow of melody and the importance of the words. In common with his predecessors Ben Webster, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, the listener senses Person thinking a song’s lyric. It’s true in “Crazy He Calls Me,” the Ruth Brown classic “Teardrops From My Eyes,” Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners,” Jimmy McHugh’s and Dorothy Field’s “On The Sunny Side of the Street.” It is true of all 10 songs here, including Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford,” the longest and most heartfelt performance on the album.
Bassist Ron Carter, a frequent collaborator with Person, told me when we were discussing a previous project, “Houston knows all the verses to all the songs. He knows the complete melodies. He plays with a great sense of feeling, and he’s open to any kind of harmonic suggestion.” Then there’s Person’s irresistible swing, buoyant at any tempo. In that aspect, he is in admirable company here with vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist John DiMartino, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Lewis Nash. Guitarist James Chirillo is an additional asset on four tracks.
Bren Plummer, Nocturnal (Bren Plummer Music)
A veteran jazz and classical bassist, Bren Plummer heads a trio with fellow Seattleites John Hansen, piano, and Reade Whitwell, drums. He applies his incisive bowing technique in Duke Ellington’s and Billy Strayhorn’s “The Star-Crossed Lovers” and—in one chorus of pure melody supported by a filagree of Whitwell’s cymbal strokes—in the impressionistic title tune composed by drummer Joe Chambers for a 1968 Bobby Hutcherson recording. The trio is full of vigor on Lee Morgan’s “Boy, What a Night,” energizes the 1942 Tommy Dorsey-Frank Sinatra hit “In the Blue of Evening” and plays Miles Davis’s “Take Off” in the neo-bop spirit of the original Blue Note recording.
Plummer and company bring dynamism even to ballads customarily played slow, including Matt Dennis’s “The Night We Called it a Day,” Mitchell Parish’s “Stars Fell on Alabama” and Bill Evans’s “Turn Out the Stars.” Arco or pizzicato, Plummer solos impressively throughout. Hansen invests everything he plays with a light touch and harmonic depth. The track titles suggest a preoccupation with night, but there is little danger that a listener will fall asleep while Nocturnal is playing.