This album comes from two nights in 2011 at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, on the occasion of Jimmy Heath’s 85th birthday. There is nothing groundbreaking here. The eight tunes (four by Heath) and the charts (all by Heath) are dead center in the modern big-band mainstream. Togetherness is not an exploration but a celebration, an immersion in the life-affirming exuberance and butt-kicking energy that only a big jazz band can generate. It must have been a fun party.
From his large portfolio of compositions, Heath chose four rowdy numbers that are lesser known but suited to a birthday bash. “A Sound for Sore Ears” is a brassy, blaring opening greeting. “Togetherness” charges straight on, like a train. “A Time and a Place” is nasty, nice funk. If there was any dancing on the tables at the Blue Note, it would have been during “A Sassy Samba,” because of its irresistible throb.
Heath has been leading big bands on and off since he was 20. Togetherness is only his third big-band album and the first one recorded live. His arrangements are effective. “Yardbird Suite,” at 11 minutes, is magnified into something wide and dense, with sections (biting trumpets, soaring saxophones) inciting one another. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Fiesta Mojo” is surprisingly subtle, with voicings in pale colors behind the soloists.
Speaking of soloists, Heath’s 18-piece ensemble draws from New York’s elite. Roy Hargrove, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash, Antonio Hart, Diego Urcola, Charles Davis and Steve Davis are among them. But the most intriguing soloist is Heath himself on tenor saxophone. His statements on “Lover Man” and “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” are measured yet fervent. Heath sounds like a man carefully choosing where to place his next step, marking a path through rich, complex personal history. He is the life of this party.