JIMMY HEATH: SWAMP SEED
JIMMY HEATH & BRASS
Donald Byrd (tp) Julius Watkins (frh) Jim Buffington (frh) Jimmy Heath (ts) Don Butterfield (tu) Herbie Hancock (p) Percy Heath (b) Connie Kay (drs) Plaza Sound Studios, NYC; March 11, 1963
More Than You Know (5:09) RM(S9)-465
“D” Waltz (6:33) - M-47025
Just In Time (5:28) - -
Wall to Wall (5:27) -
JIMMY HEATH & BRASS
Donald Byrd (tp) Julius Watkins (frh) Jim Buffington (frh) Jimmy Heath (ts) Don Butterfield (tu) Harold Mabern (p) Percy Heath (b) Albert Heath (drs) Plaza Sound Studios, NYC; May 28, 1963
Six Steps (4:49) RM(S9)-465 M-47025
Nutty (4:05) -
Swamp Seed (5:19) -
An unusual instrumentation is no guarantee of interesting music – especially not in times of often gratuitous experimentation in the arts. The music on this album, however, is both interesting and satisfying. One must conclude that Jimmy Heath had a sound in his mind which could best be realized through this unorthodox combination of eight instruments, and was not motivated merely by a desire to be “different.”
It is a warm and appealing sound, mellow but never overly lush. Jimmy Heath skillfully explores the possibilities for variety in texture, and there is often a light and airy feeling in the ensemble passages not ordinarily encountered in jazz writing for French horns and tuba. (The fact that it comes off is, of course, also a tribute to the flexibility and craftsmanship of the players.) it is an original sound, but it is sometimes pleasantly reminiscent of the famous Miles Davis Nonet and the music of Tadd Dameron, similarly based on conception of the ensemble as a unit of continuous, overlapping timbres rather than distinct sections with differing qualities of sound.
The music on this album strikes a happy balance between writing and improvisation. The arrangements allow the soloists room to stretch out, but there are no marathon monologues. Arranged interludes between solos and subtly scored backgrounds serve well to unify the performances and keep the listener’s (and soloist’s) interest from waning. There are no dry stretches – something is always happening.
To those familiar with Heath’s previous work, this will come as no surprise – through this album might well be his best showcase to date, both as soloist and composer-arranger. The middle member of a famous trio of musical brothers (all of whom are gathered here), James Edward Heath has been a factor on the jazz scene for quite some time. He first made a name for himself on the alto sax in his hometown of Philadelphia – they called him “Little Bird” then – and worked with, among others, Dizzy Gillespie’s 1950 big band, in which the other alto player was another Philadelphia boy, John Coltrane (who is almost exactly one month his senior).
The paths of these two saxophonists criss-crossed again after both had made the switch to the bigger horn – in 1959, when Jimmy replaces “Trane for two months in the Miles Davis Sextet. Prior to this, Jimmy had been with Kenny Dorham and done some writing for Chet Baker, among other things. His first chance to show his real mettle on record came on Riverside by way of the album entitled “Really Big,” which has been followed by other excellent efforts, both as leader and sideman.
As a tenorman, Jimmy Heath more than holds his own in a field where competition is tough indeed. The same sense of balance and structure which characterized his writing inhabits his playing. He seems to know what he wants to say and how to say it most effectively, and he doesn’t ramble. His tone is warm and virile, his control excellent, and his articulation throughout the range of the horn definitive. His solos are cohesive statements; every note he plays makes musical sense and he builds to a climax. He is a fine blues-player (dig his preaching on Wall to Wall), and he can handle a good ballad. He has speed, but he also knows how to use it judiciously. All these things are an integral part o his playing, and there is nothing calculated or mechanical about the way he employs them. Obviously, he has been affected to a degree by the contemporary nodality championed by Coltrane, but he uses it in his own way, and with his own time. He swings.
While Jimmy justly is the star of this date, he doesn’t hog the scene. His brothers make their presence felt, as does Percy’s M.J.Q. stablemate, Connie Jay, when he takes over in the drummer’s seat. Donald Byrd has matured considerably since his early New York days, when he was recorded more often than could have been beneficial to any musician. He also shows himself to be an excellent ensemble player. Herbie Hancock, who at this time had just joined Miles Davis, is a gifted member of the “impressionist” school of young pianists (he is especially tasty on Just in Time), and Harold Mabern, who is a bit more percussive, has a couple of good outings.
The French horns do their expert best, and Julius Watkins has a delightful solo, full of eccentric humor, on Wall to Wall. Don Butterfield,a man almost religiously devoted to the cause of the tuba, handles the giant horn with a dexterity and musicality that few, if any others could match, and gives the ensemble a big, fat (and smooth) bottom sound.
The program, well selected from old and new standards and originals, and most judicious in choice of tempos (nothing races; nothing drags), opens with the earthy Six Steps. A neat glissando highlights the theme; then there is a fleet solo by Mabern, a wistful one by Byrd and a moody, brooding statement by the leader. The unmistakeably Monkish theme of Nutty is set off by telling tuba punctuation based on Thelonious’ own recorded left-hand figures on this number. Nothing how the tenor solo springs from and stays with the Monk line, one would like to hear Heath with Thelonious. More Than You Know is virtually all Jimmy’s a tasteful rendition of a good, unhackeneyed standard ballad.
Swamp Seed, in the vernacular, means nothing more mysterious than “rice”. But it is a title that underlines the “gravy” flavor of the whole album. It is also, rather surprisingly, Percy Heath’s very first compositions. “D” Waltz opens the second side with a relaxed, infectious beat. The blues waltz is among the most rewarding innovations in jazz – too bad nobody has as yet devised a dance to go with it. As played here, this is music that makes you want to dance.
Just in Time is distinguished by an exceptionally fine tempo and a light, floating beat. Wall to Wall is a carpet for the blues with a metrically unusual ensemble introduction, and includes perhaps Jimmy’s best solo of the date, in which both 16th-note runs and long tones are well-used in telling a story. Here again, as throughout that album, solo and ensemble efforts are really integrated. If you’ve been asleep on Jimmy Heath now is a good time to wake up and listen!
DAN MORGENSTERN – Editor, JAZZ Magazine
JIMMY HEATH’s other Riverside albums include –
Really Big (331; stereo 1188)
The Quota (372; stereo 9372)
Triple Threat (400; stereo 9400)
NOTE: all 7 titles of RM(S9)-465 also on SMJ-6060, VICJ-23793CD
RM(S9)-465 “Swamp Seed” Produced by Orrin Keepnews; Recording Engineer: Ray Fowler.
Notes written by Dan Morgenstern (Editor, JAZZ Magazine)
Cover design by Ken Deardoff; back-liner photo by Lawrence N. Shustak.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, N. Y.