It can be a delicate thing, honoring jazz history. On one hand, you might lose count when trying to tally the many tribute concerts and reissues dedicated to an artist like Miles Davis, but on the other, no other music carries such a vital link to its past like jazz.
Take, for example, the continuation of jazz tradition that is “Tootie’s Tempo,” a gorgeous showcase for 78-year-old drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, who can be heard on recordings from one side of jazz tradition to the other with the likes of Lester Young, John Coltrane, Anthony Braxton and Herbie Hancock. Backed by a pair of talented artists from this generation in the Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson and in-demand bassist Ben Street, the record is a study honoring tradition even while maintaining a sharp focus on forward motion.
Street and Iverson were also heard backing the similarly credentialed Billy Hart on last year’s excellent “All Our Reasons,” and here they beautifully frame Heath’s irresistible drive. The tone is set with a witty bob-and-weave through “The Charleston” led by Heath’s roiling snare, and continues with a jaunty walk into another classic, “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”
Lalo Schifrin’s “Danube Incident” carries the debonair mood of a heist flick atop Iverson’s chiming lead, and Paul Motian’s lush “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago” interjects a welcome dash of percolating mystery. But perhaps the record is best summarized in its title track, a spotlight dance between Heath and his drums. The rhythm remains the star, swung with an elegant, timeless grace.