The Jazz.com Blog
February 24, 2009 · 3 comments
Roanna Forman covers the Boston jazz scene for jazz.com. Her most recent review focused on Brad Mehldau's Harvard performance with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Now she turns her attention to Jimmy Heath, who performed at Scullers this last weekend. T.G.
Relaxed, nonchalant, at times gently clowning with his sidemen, Jimmy Heath thanked his audience for coming out to the early set at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston on Feb 21. “Otherwise,” he said, “I’d be in front of the TV somewhere.”
Good thing he isn’t. Now “retired and on the road,” this doyen of the saxophone is as burnished and clean-sounding as ever. Dyed in the wool jazzman that he is, Heath played with six decades of distilled experience, including an authoritative bebop replete with quotes from “Without a Song,” “And the Angels Sing,” and the hee-haw opening of Ferde Grofé’s “On The Trail,” from which the band played another section later on. He led the group through his own compositions, standards, and Blue Note classics.
The sound level wasn’t quite right for some reason; the bass in particular laid down a very loud bottom throughout the set, and although he could definitely be heard, Jimmy Heath’s mike could have been turned up louder. Why the soundman didn’t catch that is beyond me. Anyway, Jimmy sounded great. And the higher register of the soprano sax – from which Heath gets a very pure tone -carried better over the other instruments, in a lilting jazz waltz rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Daydream.” Pianist Jeb Patton picked up on Jimmy Heath’s lazy, bluesy feel, adding rising and falling lines that sounded like an inchworm trying to crawl off the keyboard.
Patton has been with Jimmy Heath for 12 years, and he’s earned the status of “honorary Heath Brother,” the band leader said. A solid player who can complement ballads, swing, and funk-latin grooves with equal ease, he generally stayed within the parameters that the tunes called for. There were some nice lines interlocking arpeggios through the changes of “I’m Glad There Is You.” He took it out a little on a hard-driving uptempo arrangement of “If Ever I Would Leave You,” tossing in the progression from “Giant Steps” at one point. On bass, 26-year-old Corcoran Holt has the chops, kick, and rhythmic and melodic invention to go places, although I thought I heard some intonation problems on his pedal point on the ballad.
Both of the younger players are protégés of Jimmy Heath’s. You really sense him graciously passing the baton, not just by putting these players in his group, but giving them musical support on the bandstand. Whether he was fanning Jeb Patton’s hottest solos with a lead sheet, or listening thoughtfully, hand cupped in chin, to Corcoran Holt, you felt these were his sons, which, in a musical sense, they are. His real live brother Albert “Tootie Heath” was up there behind him, too. He’s not only still pumping it out and swinging hard, his solos provide nuances within the beat, like the riffs that fell from one drum to the other in “On the Trail.”
Which brings me to the most important point of the evening. Jazz audiences should see these performers, who are a living link to the music that’s developed since the 1940’s. Certainly out of respect for their accomplishments – Jimmy Heath’s work with Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, and the Heath Brothers runs like a ribbon through jazz history. They should learn about the music from its source, in action. To paraphrase Milt Jackson, ain’t but a few of ‘em left.
This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman