Emmet Cohen Featuring Houston Person
Master Legacy Series Vol. 5
To see pianist Emmet Cohen collaborating with a legendary elder jazz statesman is nothing new. If you are at all tuned to social media, you’ll see tons of YouTube clips (bet you can find this one too) of Cohen with his guests at his Harlem apartment for his award-winning Monday night “Live from Emmet’s Place.” Guests who have appeared there include Cyrille Aimee, Christian McBride, Charles McPherson, Sheila Jordan, Patrick Bartley, Giveton Gelin, Bruce Harris, Jeremy Pelt, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and many more. The series earned Cohen “Live-stream Producer of the Year” as well as “Pianist of the Year by the 2023 Jazz Journalists Association. Arguably, aside from his friend McBride, no one in jazz is more resourceful and collaborative as Cohen. This session, featuring the soon-to-be 89-year-old tenorist Houston Person, is not a one-off. The two have become good friends and have performed multiple times at such prestigious venues as NYC’s Birdland and Baltimore’s Keystone Korner. This session was recorded in the equally, if not more prestigious, Rudy Van Gelder Studios. Yes, it’s a vintage recording on more than one dimension.
This fifth title in the series continues the tradition of Cohen, representing his generation, playing with legends. George Coleman, Benny Golson, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Ron Carter, and Jimmy Cobb have all preceded Person, who alone has 75 of his own records as a bandleader, some recording with those listed above. Cohen, one of today’s most charismatic and technically proficient pianists who just exudes joy every time he plays, is joined by longtime drummer Kyle Poole (who just a few months ago returned to his native Los Angeles) and in-demand bassist Yasushi Nakamura. Cohen and Person collaborated on choosing the material, with a slight edge likely going to Person, who one of my friends dubbed “The B.B. King of the Saxophone,” understandably so when you hear his emotionally poignant, deep lines heard in the just the first few notes. Never mind that his solos are often goosebump inducing. The big tone and relaxed manner will just draw the listener in. Add to that, Cohen’s propensity to swing with the best of them and it makes for a strong, consistently infectious collaboration.
Person’s fat, old school sound and natural swing colors the opening “Why Not” as Cohen picks up on the swaying groove with his bouncy solo, Nakamura jumps in, and Poole gets his say on the eights. Rodgers and Hart’s “isn’t It Romantic” mid-tempo ballad reads like an intimate conversation between Person and Cohen, the latter who can brighten even slower tempos with his liquid, rapid-fire runs. Person’s warmth comes through on Tadd Dameron “If You Could See Me Now,” in this faithful reading of a tune that’s been covered by the likes of Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon, and Wes Montgomery, not to mention Sarah Vaughan, who Dameron originally penned it for. Person’s outro is to die for.
In a surprising twist, Person suggested one out of the typical jazz repertoire, Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The quartet swings as hard here as anywhere on the album, Person especially putting his indelible stamp on the tune that Joel could never have envisioned getting this kind of treatment. There’s an alternative track that swings just as fiercely too. Cohen likening Person’s playing to that of a masterful (and we should add deeply soulful) vocalist is on clear display in Duke Ellington’s “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” – all melody, no improvisation necessary. Leave the latter to Cohen. Nakamura steps out with his walking bassline while Poole keeps the pocket intact. “All My Tomorrow’s,” most associated with Frank Sinatra, is yet another example of Person’s melodic command on ballads while Cohen also plays most tenderly. The quartet kicks back into their swinging, prancing mode for “Blues Everywhere” as each member gets a turn before closing with a deep feel for the blues in “Sunday Kind of Love,” an old standard linked most often to vocalist Etta James. That previously cited nickname For Houston Person fits like a glove here and Cohen has as natural instincts for bluesy material as any pianist performing today.
We’re already at a point in Cohen’s career at age 33, when one can guarantee the highest quality for any album in his steadily growing catalog, whether it be with jazz masters or with his own trio. This is a sterling addition, engaging and often chill inducing.
- Jim Hynes
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