Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"Two Cigarettes in the Dark" glows in the tenor partnership of Keith Oxman and Houston Person

A shrewd one-tenor, two-tenor dynamic gets handsome display in a new Keith Oxman CD featuring veteran Houston Person. And there's the added variety of two juicy guest appearances by vocalist Annette Murrell.
Annette Murrell sings two songs on Keith Oxman CD.

"Two Cigarettes in the Dark" (Capri Records Ltd.) starts off by showcasing the saxophone dialogue with the evergreen Frank Loesser song "I've Never Been in Love Before."  At 84 when this recording was made in late 2018, Person contributes the wisdom of the ages, balancing Oxman's buttersmooth phrasing with a more pungent sound.

The partnership always sounds natural: The tenormen share space compatibly, and the way Person sets the tone for Murrell's sojourn through "Everything Happens to Me" speaks to his fruitful experience over many years with singer Etta Jones. Murrell spreads her wings in "Crazy He Calls Me" as well.

Houston Person feeds wisdom of the ages into Oxman quartet's mastery.
When the hornmen work at length together, as in tenor giant Hank Mobley's "Bossa for Baby," there are no blips or jerks along the way. Oxman's nicely floating solo, reminiscent of Stan Getz's landmark bossa nova splash into pop stardom, yields to a Person showcase featuring a brief, rare quotation ("Sunny"). When the tune comes back, Person displays his adeptness with brief fills between the leader's phrases.

On this track, Jeff Jenkins' deft, fluttery piano solo complements his boss' approach. Oxman typically sounds relaxed, and even when he imparts some intensity to his solos, he keeps them on a low simmer that suits his style. He inevitably sounds comfortable throughout his instrument's compass. The producer left in an apt remark of Person's at the end: "Yeah, that's just raggedy enough to be good." Precisely!

Oxman's originals are bracing and have a little bit of that appealing raggedyness to them as well. "Murphy's Law Impacts L.E.A.P.," a title with no doubt an interesting story behind it, has a consistent, conventional focus with some interesting turns to it. Paul Romaine's drum solo, concentrating on toms and cymbals, invigorates the peroration.

Jenkins contributed a tune, "Wind Chill," with an unforced boogaloo vibe that's meat and drink not just to guest star Person, but also suits the whole group. The pianist seems to have fun tweaking his own melody. Person is also in his element in Johnny Griffin's "Sweet Sucker," in which bassist Ken Walker takes his only solo, a comfortably grooving excursion that sets up a series of tenor exchanges before Person and Oxman ride through the outchorus in smart style.

This is a release that shows the continuing strength of imaginative mainstream jazz, and rewards close listening.

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