It’s never too late for a great jazz musician to step into the spotlight. In recent years, drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath has finally gained the recognition commensurate with the esteem he’s long inspired among his peers.
The recent reissue of his second album as a leader, "Kwanza" (Xanadu) , helps fill out the creative profile of a musician who’s still going strong at 80.
Recorded in the spring of 1973, "Kwanza" captures a mid-career master with a long-established reputation as one of the most eloquent and adaptable drummers in jazz. Ever since making his recording debut on tenor saxophonist John Coltrane’s first solo record in 1957, he’d provided supple and unfailingly tasteful support for a series of classic albums by now legendary artists like guitarist Wes Montgomery, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and vibraphonist Milt Jackson.
He wasn’t forgotten during a four-year stint in Sweden, but when Heath moved back to the U.S. in 1969 he found fewer opportunities to record. With the chance to make "Kwanza," a rare project of his own, Heath wasn’t content to organize an all-star jam session. He’d been collaborating and studying composition with multi-instrumental explorer Yusef Lateef, and he used "Kwanza" to investigate some of the chamber music concepts he’d been working on, like “A Notion,” a serene soundscape with a folk-like melody rendered beautifully on flute by Jimmy Heath.