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Monday, March 23, 2020

CD Review: Keith Oxman - Two Cigarettes in the Dark

Keith Oxman, Houston Person (tenor sax); Jeff Jenkins (piano); Ken Walker (bass); Paul Romaine (drums); Annette Murrell (vocal on 2 tracks).
(Review by Lance).

What a gem this is! Admittedly I'm a sucker for two tenor front-line outfits and this one compares with the best of them. However, unlike most pairings, it's not a joust or a cutting contest. The two horns' contrasting tones complement each other. Oxman, the suave sophisticate, Houston, the super soulful saxist. Together they weave a magical tapestry that ranges from balladry to bop (the hard version). The opener, Frank Loesser's I've Never Been in Love Before fits comfortable between the two extremes.


84 year old Person, for many years Etta James' musical partner, has that gutsy sound that could be traced back to Illinois Jacquet via, maybe Johnny Griffin. Oxman leans more towards Hank Mobley so perhaps it is no coincidence that, along with the standards, Mobley (Bossa For Baby) and Griffin (Sweet Sucker) provided a couple of the tunes.

Annette Murrell interprets  the words to  Crazy He Calls Me and  Everything Happens to Me. The latter tune by that most underrated tune-smith Matt Dennis never fails to get me with it's ironic lyric:
I make a date for golf and you can bet your life it rains,
I try to throw a party and the guy upstairs complains,
I guess I'll go through life just catching colds and missing trains,
Everything happens to me.

I telegraphed and phoned sent an airmail special too,
Your answer was goodbye - there was even postage due...

Ah that last line! A true loser's song. However, Annette is anything but a loser and her earthy-voiced delivery does both songs justice. As a tribute to the singer, Oxman titled  an original composition of his Murrellancholy. Other originals are Voss is Boss and Murphy's Law Impacts L.E.A.P - catchy title - Person sits these ones out.

Some nice piano from Jenkins, who also composed the groove based Wind Chill, which, coupled with solid support from bass and drums make this an album of sheer delight. Oh yes, the title track. Two Cigarettes in the Dark was initially a Bing Crosby ballad. These days, such a title, romantic as it was back in the 1930s, would set off alarms with both the fire dept and the health service although, at present, the latter may have other things on its mind.

Highly recommended - ECM it ain't!
Lance 
PS: Liner notes are by the legendary alto saxist Charles McPherson who draws attention to the stylistic contrasts between the two tenor players - "Keith's long flowing lines and Houston's warm rich tone". Trust me, Charles knows about these things!

Available now from Capri Records.

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