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Percy Heath: A Love Song

You could probably sense from his perfectly tempered, ever in-the-pocket bass playing that Percy Heath doesn’t like to rush things. Waiting until he was 79 years of age to record his first solo album may have been erring too heavily on the side of caution, particularly since A Love Song makes such a strong case for Heath’s musical abilities.

Hidden in plain sight during his five-decade stint with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Heath, the model of self-effacement, was hardly more extroverted in the Heath Brothers band that he co-led with saxophonist Jimmy and drummer Albert. On A Love Song Heath steps up to the plate, reveling in melodic statements and generous solos on both bass and cello, and displaying unpretentious compositional talent on a handful of tunes. His company is familiar: Brother Albert comes along for the ride, as does Heath Brothers’ pianist Jeb Patton; the redoubtable Peter Washington adds solid bass support, freeing Percy to step into the spotlight.

Heath has an uncommon fancy for pizzicato cello, featuring its bristly tone and restricted range on the unaccompanied title song, “No More Weary Blues,” and “Watergate Blues,” a Heath favorite since the days of the Nixon fallout. The bassist who can bring tears to your eyes with his bountiful sound and refined phrasing is best heard on a stunning interpretation of the M.J.Q. anthem “Django,” “Hanna’s Mood” and the 13-minute Heath original “Suite for Pop,” all additionally highlighted by Patton’s stately John Lewis-like playing, and Albert’s gliding drum work.

Modest in scope yet revealing, A Love Song shines needed light on one of jazz’s great secret weapons.

Originally Published