Each Houston Person album – there are 75 or so of them now – is a lesson in melody. For all of jazz’s emphasis on improvised solos, typically with little or infrequent reference to the melody, there is an art to stating the melody and using it to guide and temper one’s solos. Person, the veteran tenor saxophonist from Florence, S.C., has said that with each song, he tries to let the melody live. This is certainly true throughout the appropriately titled “The Melody Lingers On,” a quintet session with vibraphone player Steve Nelson, pianist Lafayette Harris, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Lewis Nash.
The songs include, among others, “My Funny Valentine,” “Gone Again,” “You’re Nearer,” “They All Laughed,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “The Song Is Ended” and Harris’ “You Can’t Lose With the Blues.” The ever-soulful Person spreads the theme statements and solos around, with Nelson’s vibes adding an element of cool sophistication in both the ensemble work and as a solo instrument. Person’s sound is warm, inviting and saturated with the blues and gospel-like shouts and inflections. He plays with sonority and authority.
Like a singer, his melody statements and solos breathe. (Person and the late vocalist Etta Jones performed together for more than three decades, so it’s no wonder that he often phrases like a singer.) Person is also the king of the relaxed tempo, with Drummond’s heartbeat-like bass in the background anchoring the ensemble.
You’re in luck if you want to hear Person in person soon. He performs with Gregg Gelb’s Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra at the Temple Theatre in Sanford on Nov. 15 and with the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble (directed by Gelb) Nov. 16 at the Cary Arts Center.