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Steady And Swingin': Tootie Keeps The Tempo

Oct 1, 2013
Originally published on October 1, 2013 6:38 pm

Since playing on John Coltrane's first release in 1957, drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath has participated in a number of landmark jazz records. Now 78, the musician is featured in a new trio session with players nearly half his age — pianist Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus and bassist Ben Street. Their collaborative project, Tootie's Tempo, has the potential to be one of the most energetic, eye-opening jazz recordings of the year.

As a drummer raised on bebop and known for his exceptionally crisp execution, Heath has galvanized his collaborators by sticking to the essence of the beat. There's nothing showy about him; he just makes sure the music feels good.

Iverson lives on the opposite side of the spectrum; his music is usually full of jackknife angles, dense chords and elaborate knots. On Tootie's Tempo, though, the pianist moves more deliberately, honoring the tone set by Heath. Together, they create disciplined, wonderfully concise updates of standards.

Inside these exchanges is a lesson in the art of jazz conversation: Heath's poised, steady beat serves as a guide, allowing his collaborators room to explore. At the same time, it encourages them to pay attention to the basics, the melody and the swing feel. Instead of executing typical jazz moves and cluttering things up with flashy technique, the trio settles in, kicks back and enjoys the ride.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Jazz drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath has been part of the jazz pantheon since he played on John Coltrane's first record in 1957. Heath is still playing at 78, and he's now featured on a new trio session with musicians nearly half his age: pianist Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus and bassist Ben Street. The album is called "Tootie's Tempo," and music critic Tom Moon says it's one of the most energetic jazz recordings he's heard all year.

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TOM MOON, BYLINE: When jazz people hear about one of these summit meetings involving young guys playing with old masters, the first reaction is usually a shrug. By now, it's a familiar dance. Everybody makes all the right noises about honoring the tradition, and the music itself, it winds up lukewarm at best. Not this time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: In this case, the master is Albert "Tootie" Heath, a drummer raised on bebop and known for his exceptionally crisp execution. For decades, Heath has galvanized his collaborators by sticking to the essence of the beat. There's nothing showy about him. He just makes sure that the music feels good.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: The pianist Ethan Iverson lives on the opposite side of the spectrum. He isn't exactly known for feel-good stuff. His music is usually full of jackknife angles, dense chords and elaborate knots. Here, though, Iverson moves more deliberately, honoring the mood set by Tootie Heath. Together, they create disciplined, wonderfully concise updates of standards. Those familiar with Iverson from The Bad Plus might not even recognize him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: Inside these exchanges is a lesson in the art of jazz conversation. Heath's poised, steady beat sets the tone. It offers his collaborators room to explore and, at the same time, encourages them to pay attention to the basics, the melody, the swing feel. That's when something amazing happens. Instead of cluttering things up with flashy technique, this trio settles in, kicks back and enjoys the ride.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: The album from Ethan Iverson, Ben Street and Albert "Tootie" Heath is called "Tootie's Tempo." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

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