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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



Don’t Misunderstand

HighNote HCD 7173




1. Blue Monk
2. Don’t Misunderstand
3. Exactly Like You
4. Ain’t Misbehavin’
5. I Saw Stars
6. I’m Glad There Is You
7. Bluesology
9. Are You Real?
Etta Jones – Vocals
Houston Person – Tenor sax
Sonny Phillips – Organ
Frankie Jones - Drums

However experienced jazz fans may be, they can’t know every performer. Etta Jones was only a name to me until I heard this album. Etta in fact sang with Earl Hines’s band from 1949 to 1952 and had a hit record in 1960 with Don’t Go to Strangers. She recorded many albums with tenorist Houston Person before she died in 2001.

I know Houston much better, having heard him at several Swinging Jazz Parties in Blackpool, as well as on many discs recorded for the HighNote label (most recently an excellent CD with pianist Bill Charlap – reviewed for MusicWeb last year). He is a saxophonist capable of swinging with bluesy soul but he can also play with tender feeling on ballads – as he does here in an emotional rendition of I’m Glad There Is You, which also has a well-paced organ solo from Sonny Phillips. Houston often leaves spaces wide enough to drive a truck through but then bursts out with swirling decorations which are as complex as they are beautiful.

But the main revelation for me is Etta Jones, an extraordinary singer who makes an immediate impact on the title track, which betrays the influence of Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. Despite these palpable influences, Etta is unique. She may have learnt from Billie’s phrasing and Dinah’s declamatory style but she has her own idiosyncratic style. Listening to her is like watching a tightrope walker. She treads a daring path through a song, and sometimes you think she won’t reach the end of a phrase in time, as she tends to ignore bar-lines and deliver the lyrics with startling freedom. She also seems happy to assume that we know a particular tune, as she improvises a line which may appear only tenuously connected to the melody but which nevertheless makes glorious sense. It is fascinating to follow her wherever she takes us, however unexpected the route may be. In Exactly Like You, for instance, it sounds as if she’s not going to come in for the first chorus but her voice suddenly arrives with the sort of melismatic independence that may remind you of Dinah Washington but is more impressive (and less repetitive).

Ain’t Misbehavin’ has been sung thousands of times but Etta somehow makes it new, treating the song almost anarchically. Even though she seems to disregard the restraints of punctuation, she sings the song with complete conviction. Her interpretation of I Saw Stars captures perfectly the disorientation of falling in love.

This album was recoded at New York’s Salt Peanuts club in 1980 and has apparently never been released before. This may be because of the rather fuzzy recording quality on some tracks, and the occasionally abrasive sound of Sonny Phillips’s Hammond organ. Yet Sonny provides a solid bass with the pedals, helped along by the impetus of Frankie Jones’s drumming. Don’t be put you off by the slight deficiencies in sound. This album is far more exciting than most of those emanating nowadays from the numerous vocalists who could learn a thing or three by listening to Etta Jones. Marvellous!

Tony Augarde


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