Reviews & Opinions

Review: Houston Person Comes to Buffalo
The Jazz Road Trip Continues


Houston Person Shines

Houston PersonThe auditorium of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery was bright and cheery as copious amounts of sunshine streamed in through abundant windows. But the brightest light emanated from the stage where the ever-convivial saxophonist, Houston Person, took to the bandstand. His unabashed grin and self deprecating humor immediately set the tone and you instantly knew that this performance was going to be FUN.

And so it began with the sassy swagger of “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me.” Drummer Chip White swung like a metronome and bassist Matt Parrish and pianist John di Martino fell in lockstep with him. Their unobtrusive playing gave the boss tenor a groovin’ platform from which to stroke the melody like a favorite kitten. Fat, unhurried eighth notes bubbling from the bell of his horn were the audio equivalent of a lava lamp. The big man was having fun, while the band followed him attentively, and there was no point in trying to resist the music’s pull.

And so for the duration of the afternoon’s performance, the concept of yin yang, where complementary opposites interact within a greater whole, ruled the day.  Uptempo pieces, such as “Lester Leaps In” were followed by luscious ballads. Often, the rambunctious tunes harkened back to a time when this type of music could be heard emanating from a jukebox in a chittlin circuit joint. Had there been more floor space in the auditorium, I’m sure that his wide-vibrato tone would have had some people dancing. And those tender ballads, where his tone drew upon Lester Young’s vibrato-less influence, were as breathy and delicate as the mantle of a Coleman lantern, where even the slightest touch would cause it to disintegrate. Woody, resonant bass-work, rustling brushes from White’s drums and complimentary pianistic touches from di Martino made each ballad a thing of consummate beauty.

Lester YoungA perfect example of the ebb and flow was the tears and broken hearts rendition of “The Way We Were” which was immediately countered with Bobby Hebb’s 1965 hit “Sunny” and then the melancholy redemption of “I’m Glad There Is You.” When a career has the longevity of Person’s, you develop an intuitive knack for programming the set.

History Reinvents Itself

And those lessons, with their deep history, came through without being anachronistic. Despite the music sounding in the here-and-now, listening to them play “It Had To Be You” you could momentarily close your eyes and think that it was 1942 again and a black and white world of Casablanca was only a memory away. And it goes without saying that this would not and could not be a Houston Person gig without hearing some blues. “Since I Fell For You” was interpreted with Houston’s typical blues affinity, where the genre is infectiously dignified, as opposed to the greasy, backroom varietal.

By the performance’s end, the boss tenor man still wore his “aw-shucks” grin from ear to ear and a couple of hundred believers mirrored it right back at him. Yeah, this was a pleasantly fun afternoon.  Live jazz, there’s nothing like it!

December 6, 2011