[JPL] A master is in his element with all-star band at Iridium

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Sat Apr 5 06:46:08 EDT 2008


A master is in his element with all-star band at Iridium

by Zan Stewart /Star-Ledger Staff
Friday April 04, 2008, 5:03 PM

Jimmy Heath Big Band. When: Tonight and tomorrow, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Where:
Iridium Jazz Club, 1650 Broadway at 51st Street, New York. How much: $35
music charge, $10 minimum. Call (212) 582-2121 or visit iridiumjazzclub.com.

NEW YORK -- In his 60-plus-year career, Jimmy Heath has established himself
as a superb jazz saxophone improviser who delivers anything from flowing
bursts to short, smart statements -- all packed with melody and underpinned
with supple swing.

Queens resident Heath, 81, brings those same qualities to his compositions
and arrangements -- works that reveal beguiling themes and consistently
agreeable written passages.

The musician, who has played with giants like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles
Davis and is a longtime leader, showcased his wealth of talents Thursday in
the debut of his all-star big band at the Iridium Jazz Club.

It was most welcome to hear Heath -- a 2003 recipient of a National
Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship -- in such a setting. His
stints with such large groups have been far too infrequent. He briefly led a
large ensemble in the late 1940s, but rarely has since. He's made a handful
of large ensemble recordings, so his outstanding 2006 big-band CD, "Turn Up
the Heath" (Planet Arts), is also most welcome.

Several of Thursday's first-set selections were drawn from that album. "Big
P," a 1960 blues, was a classic example of the leader's writing style.

Introduced by flowing saxes followed by bold, anthemic brass, the theme
covered two choruses. The first consisted of a punchy, descending sax figure
that was answered by an ascent; the second had statements that ran vice
versa. Each chorus closed with a summation remark from the ensemble, with
the trumpets shouting on top. Typical of Heath, he used a little to say a

Alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, tenor saxophonist Andres Boiarsky and
trombonist Jason Jackson each offered meaty parcels of notes, backed by a
kicking rhythm from pianist Jeb Patton, bassist David Wong and drummer Steve
Johns. Occasional brass statements added color behind the soloists.

Then Wong's mix of engaging figures -- delivered via a warm, muscular sound
-- led back to the ensemble, as when the saxes and trombones tossed phrases
back and forth, with sizzling, perhaps overly loud, trumpets on top.

"Winter Sleeves," based roughly on the standard "Autumn Leaves," found the
trombones issuing the theme, with saxes and trumpets in response. Heath was
featured, employing his round sound and deep bag of thoughts, which included
some long, complex lines balanced by those more economical. Brass accents
told their own story. Trombonist Steve Davis also displayed his bop acumen.

Kenny Dorham's tender-themed Latin-bent "No End" (from "Turn Up")
spotlighted Heath's ability to craft alluring remarks with a crackling Latin
feel, and his soprano saxophone prowess. Trumpeter Diego Urcola, who played
part of the theme with cup mute for another color, also soloed, mixing high,
bright notes with those lower and more conversational. This piece closed
with soft sax remarks, then a rich trumpet tapestry.

The well-known blues "Gingerbread Boy" gave most members of the band solo
spots. Here tenorman Charles Davis, altoist Sharel Cassity, baritonist Frank
Basile, trombonist John Mosca and bass trombonist Max Seigel were
particularly stirring.

Also heard were Heath's ballad "The Voice of the Saxophone," with emotive
tenor from the leader, and the upbeat "Like a Son," showcasing Hart.

Zan Stewart is the Star-Ledger's jazz writer. He is also a musician who
occasionally performs at local clubs. He may be reached at
zstewart at starledger.com or at (973) 324-9930.

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