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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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The Wizard of Jazz

Savant SCD 2101



1. Come Rain or Come Shine
2. Ill Wind
3. This Time the Dream's On Me
4. The Man that Got Away
5. Let's Fall in Love
6. Stormy Weather
7. Blue Jug / Harold's Blues
8. Over the Rainbow

Houston Person - Tenor sax
Kenny Berger, Don Braden, Ralph LaLama, Brad Leali, Mike Migliore - Saxes, reeds
Cecil Bridgewater, Brian Pareschi, Valery Ponomarev, Jim Rotondi - Trumpets, flugelhorns
Sam Burtis, John Mosca, Jim Pugh - Trombones
Peter Hand - Guitar
Richard Wyands - Piano
Harvie S - Bass
Steve Johns - Drums

There is one person who makes this album really worthwhile: Houston Person. Without his contribution, this would be a fairly conventional big-band CD. However, as the featured soloist, Houston renders nearly every track remarkable. The album was recorded at a New York concert in 2005 to celebrate the centenary of composer Harold Arlen's birth.

Arlen started his musical career as a jazz band singer, pianist and arranger but his composing abilities were revealed when he wrote a song called Get Happy which was a hit for singer Ruth Etting. The bluesy element in many of his songs made them attractive to jazz improvisers and he wrote many tunes which have become jazz standards, such as I've Got the World on a String, That Old Black Magic and Blues in the Night, as well as the songs on this album.

The opening Come Rain or Come Shine immediately illustrates the appeal of Houston Person's warm tenor-sax tone, both in the theme statement and his gyrating solo. Bandleader/guitarist Peter Hand also gets a solo, as does accomplished pianist Richard Wyands.

Houston is especially endearing in his tender treatment of the ballad Ill Wind. Wyands adds another measured piano solo but Cecil Bridgewater's brief muted trumpet solo is insecurely pitched. The trumpet solos are perhaps the weakest point of this album: sometimes too shrill - like Valery Ponomarev in This Time the Dream's On Me, where Houston exchanges muscular fours with drummer Steve Johns.

Houston Person's delicacy is apparent in his interpretation of The Man That Got Away. Let's Fall in Love is given a bossa nova rhythm in which the drumming becomes over-heavy as it proceeds, although Houston maintains his poise. Stormy Weather returns us to a ballad, sensitively delivered by the tenorist.

Blue Jug/Harold's Blues is a combination of two blues themes written respectively by Houston Person and Peter Hands, giving many of the musicians the chance to show their paces in short solos. The recording saves the best for last: Houston soloing entirely unaccompanied on Harold Arlen's best-known tune: Over the Rainbow. It has become so hackneyed that you might not think anyone could find something new in it, but Houston's unhurried performance makes it a thing of great beauty.

One final point. As this is a concert recording, the music is continually interrupted by the audience thinking that they have to clap after every solo. I hate this unthinking practice, especially when it is done routinely. The audience here proves how pointless it is when they applaud halfway through the bass solo in Let's Fall in Love, unaware that it hasn't yet finished.

Tony Augarde 

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