CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Albert “Tootie” Heath/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street: Philadelphia Beat

In their jointly written “Artist’s Choice” column on Tootie Heath for JazzTimes, pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street spotlighted the diversity of the drummer’s sideman work, choosing a handful of recordings that illustrated Heath’s adaptability. On Philadelphia Beat, the Heath-Iverson-Street trio’s followup to 2013’s Tootie’s Tempo and 2010’s Live at Smalls, the track list is also rather disparate, reaching to such wide-ranging sources as Monk, Bach, Eubie Blake, Yusef Lateef and the disco classic “I Will Survive.”

Attempting to navigate such a crazy-quilt roadmap, in lesser hands, might court disaster, but given Iverson’s work in the Bad Plus, much of whose career has focused on unexpected re-imaginings drawn from a bottomless well, there’s nothing to fear. The album’s dozen interpretive performances-there are no original compositions-are stylistically all over the place, but the trio’s collective bond is airtight.

Of course this trio, helmed by one of the most swinging drummers in jazz history, employs creative but far more earthbound strategies than the Bad Plus. “I Will Survive” is interpreted as a mysterious, mixed-tempo blues. The loping, shuffling “Bags’ Groove” that opens the record is adventurous but not at the expense of the indelible theme, and Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” while providing Heath with ample room to swing straight and twist things up shambolically, still relishes the standard’s melody and structure.

Originally Published