Albert Heath – Kwanza (The First) – Xanadu/Elemental Music 906070, 44:28 – (1973/1981) ****:
Jimmy Heath – Picture of Heath – Xanadu/Elemental Music 906072, 42:03 – (1975) ***1/2:
(Albert Heath – drums, chimes, tympani; Jimmy Heath – tenor and soprano sax, flute; Curtis Fuller – trombone; Kenny Barron – piano; Ted Dunbar – guitar; Percy Heath – bass)
(Jimmy Heath – tenor and soprano saxophone; Barry Harris – piano; Sam Jones – bass; Billy Higgins – drums)
Xanadu Records was a label that found a strong audience for its blend of bop/hard bop in the 1970s through 1980s. Owned by impresario Don Schlitten, Xanadu put out well over 100 albums by both established artists like Barry Harris, Tal Farlow, Kenny Dorham, Charles McPherson, Coleman Hawkins, and Kenny Drew – as well as lesser-known (but treasured by hard core jazz fanatics) primarily sidemen such as Dolo Coker, Sam Noto, Frank Butler, and Mickey Tucker. Xanadu was a labor of love for Schlitten, who produced the sessions and designed the album covers while his wife handled the business affairs. Most of the albums had a distinctive black and white cover with similar graphics that set the label apart.
Re-releasing some prime material from the Xanadu catalog was a task that fit Elemental Music’s guru, Zev Feldman’s partnership with The Orchard just fine. Zev has made his Resonance label stand out with archival releases in the last several years highlighted by its issuance of treasured early unreleased Wes Montgomery sessions. Now he is branching out with a collection of 25 Xanadu reissues on CD and LP. The series is called Xanadu Master Edition(s) They include out-of-print titles being reissued for the first time since their original LP release. Each CD is packaged in SACD jewel cases along with original liner notes, updated essays from jazz historians, period photos, session sheets, production notes, and bonus tracks when available. Remastering helps bring the tracks into the digital age. I have long awaited the opportunity to revisit some of the gems from Xanadu and to hear this music is a special treat.
We begin our Xanadu voyage with one of the elite jazz families, the Heaths: Jimmy, Albert, and Percy. We are ever so lucky to have saxophonist Jimmy, and drummer, Albert still vibrantly active. Percy was the bassist in the Modern Jazz Quartet for over four decades, and played on numerous sessions as a sideman.
On Kwanza (meaning “The First” in Swahili), Albert was teamed with his brothers for the first time on a recording, as well as his first time as a leader, and initial offering as a composer. This session featured soulful arrangements highlighted by funky guitar fills by Ted Dunbar, electric piano of Kenny Barron, and brother Jimmy’s swinging tenor, soprano and flute. Swahili titles such as “Tafadhali”, and “Dunia” (dig Albert on tympani here) bring visions of a musical stew from the sextet that come to fruition. Especially moving is Jimmy’s flute stylings on “A Notion.” Percy’s “Oops!” is a bass lover’s treasure while the bonus track piano solo of Kenny Barron on “Wazuri Blues” from 1981 is a sweet addition.
Jimmy Heath is a national jazz treasure whose jazz tenure has entered its eighth decade. He has led big bands, written standards in the jazz repertoire, and played with all the greats. Renowned as a jazz educator, he is a walking jazz encyclopedia. On Picture of Heath, recorded in 1975, he gets to strut his bop bona fides on five of his self-penned winners including “For Minors Only” and “CTA.” “Bruh Slim” was written to honor big brother, Percy. With a dream rhythm section of Barry Harris, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins, Jimmy could let loose and blow up a storm.
At the time that this album was first issued in late 1975, Jimmy was just about to enter his ‘50s. That was forty years ago. A lot of water has gathered under the bridge since then. The one constant that comfortably remains is the reassuring presence on the jazz scene of Jimmy Heath. Play on, Jimmy…
Tafadhali, A Notion, Dr. Jeh, Dunia, Oops!, Sub-Set, Wazuri Blues (Bonus Track)
TrackList: Picture of Heath:
For Minors Only, Body and Soul, Picture of Heath, Bruh Slim, All Members, CTA