Ethan Iverson & "Tootie" Heath!

It’s rare that a live concert captures the mind-bending joy of mainstream post-War jazz. (Recitals of the bebop repertory tend toward the worshipfully literal, like museum pieces.) But just such a rare experience was had last night at Smalls, the convivial (and, yes, small) jazz club in the West Village, where pianist Ethan Iverson played standards with a trio that featured Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums.

Heath’s presence was remarkable in itself. The youngest of the Heath Brothers (Percy, the late bassist of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Jimmy, the much-alive tenor saxophonist once known as “Little Bird”), Tootie slaps and caresses the drumkit with a panache that’s passed a bit out of style but hasn't turned remotely old hat. The brisk tom-tom rolls, the snare accents, the splashy ride cymbal—he takes you back to a golden age but makes it glow as burnished and vital as tomorrow.

Iverson is best known as the pianist for The Bad Plus, but, as I’ve noted here before, he’s an encyclopedic virtuoso, expert in all styles, reverent of tradition without falling prey to the furrowed brow of excess seriousness. There was none of TBP’s playful irony in last night’s first set, which included “Confirmation,” “Like Someone in Love,” and “The Shadow of Your Smile;” but neither was this your granddad’s bebop. Iverson laid down dark harmonies and shimmering clusters that brought new freshness to these chestnuts—while leaving plenty of space for Heath to thwack and sway.

The trio (which also includes the very able Ben Street on bass) plays again tonight, at 9 and 10:30. If you’re anywhere near, go see them.

Sammy's picture

I don't know, I've listened and can't get excited by this stuff.

--by Laura's picture

Mr Heath is amazing! He sounded great!