By Alain Drouot | Published February 2017
Altadena is an area of Los Angeles County that Albert “Tootie” Heath has been calling home for about four decades. It is also the title of a five-part suite by Brooklyn-based pianist Richard Sears, originally commissioned by the Los Angeles Jazz Society in 2013 in tribute to Heath. Sears recorded it two years later—soon after legendary drummer turned 80.
With Altadena, Sears penned a constantly engaging work that brims with imagination and various influences, one that Heath can be proud to be part of—it will only enhance an already spotless reputation.
The leader can be credited for leading the drummer into territories that one would not immediately associate with him. In the company of younger musicians, Heath seems ready for a new beginning, and takes advantage of his vast experience to adapt to each situation instead of relying on an old bag of tricks.
Although the pianist’s music has a strong melodic content, it does not preclude forays in freeform improvisation. Fortunately, the emotional range of the horn players is vast; they can build carefully crafted solos or let it rip with abandon. Steve Lugerner, Patrick Wolff and Kirk Knuffke are also expert at providing countermelodies or a complex background when they are not the leading voice. And each musician gets multiple opportunities to shine.
Each part of the suite follows a unique format, including a ballad and a tone poem. More surprising for an American musician, Sears’ writing in the final section echoes the folk-infused compositions of French musicians such as reed player Louis Sclavis or bassist Henri Texier.
Altadena: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5. (35:47)
Personnel: Richard Sears, piano; Steven Lugerner; alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Kirk Knuffke, cornet; Patrick Wolff, tenor saxophone; Garrett Lang, bass; Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums.