I hate to use clichés, but Eric Person is, as the saying goes, one of jazz’s "best kept secrets". A musician of amazing talent, both as a saxophonist and a composer, it’s a wonder that he is not more widely known. I’m not sure why that is. It’s certainly not from lack of exposure. Mr. Person has been active on the New York City and international scene for over 18 years now. He has played and recorded with everyone from McCoy Tyner, Dave Holland and Chico Hamilton to Ben Harper, Living Color and The Allman Brothers.
If you’ve never heard of Eric Person, Live At Big Sur makes for spectacular introduction. Eric and his band, Meta-Four, come out of the gate blazing and never let up during the entire 65+ minute set. Accompanied by John Esposito on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Peter O’Brien on drums, every tune is a flawless execution that demonstrates what modern jazz should sound like when played by masters of the craft. The fact that this album was recorded live as opposed to in a studio is further testament to the skill and dedication of these stellar musicians.
I used the words ‘accompanied by’ when describing Eric’s band mates, but that term really doesn’t do justice to the type of interaction that the band achieves on this CD. As brilliant as each individual soloist is, you get the impression that every solo is a group effort. Regardless of who happens to be ‘spotlighted’ at the moment, the entire band seems to be constantly improvising on the themes in a subtle way that makes for a multi-dimensional sound by a group that plays with one mind. It’s that quality that truly makes this recording stand out among so many of the jazz records released today. Having said that, it’s still apparent that Eric Person is the leader. Playing alto and soprano saxophones, he sets the bar high and the others have no problem living up to the challenge. I especially enjoyed his soprano playing. The soprano saxophone is one of the more difficult of saxophones to play and can sometimes sound shrill and annoying in the hands of even the most accomplished player. But the sound Person produces is absolutely beautiful, one of the best I’ve ever heard.
The compositions on this album, all written by Person, are each gems in their own right. Three of the seven tunes, "Magenta", "Reach" and "I’ll Be Just Fine" are recorded here for the first time. The other four tunes are from the previous Person releases Arrival (1992), More Tales To Tell (1996) and Extra Pressure (1999). It wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of these songs, such as "Tiger In The Maze"and "Reach" are eventually covered by other jazz musicians, as they have the type of universal appeal that makes a song a standard.
Played with deep emotion and wide-ranging dynamics, this is certainly one of the best recordings of the New Year and one that will hopefully expose Person and Meta-Four to a wider audience of enthusiasts looking for great jazz.