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The session was a serendipitous once. Veteran drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, 82 at the time, was set to travel from his home in Santa Fe to Los Angeles in 2017 to perform music written for him with a large ensemble led by Richard Sears. Multi-instrumentalist Seven Lugerner, who played in the ensemble, asked Heath if he would like to record in a chordless trio that would also include area bassist Garret Lang. Heath assented, and the music is finally being released for the first time five years later. It was worth the wait.
For the project, Lugerner, who plays several reed instruments, exclusively blows bass clarinet. While that instrument makes one think of Eric Dolphy — and Lugerner has performed in adventurous settings with top jazz artists including Fred Hersch, Jason Moran, Myra Melford and Taylor Eigsti among others — on this set he displays a smoother and more straightahead style than is usually associated with the bass clarinet.
The result is a relatively brief (around 35 minutes) but satisfying five-song program. It begins with the minor blues “The Big P,” a tribute by its composer Jimmy Heath to Tootie’s other brother, bassist Percy Heath. At first Lugerner sounds as if were using a standard clarinet, since he emphasizes the upper register, but then his exploration of lower notes hips listeners to what instrument he’s actually playing. His solo is fluent and melodic, as is Lang’s, while Heath trades some breaks with Lugerner. The other songs have similar formats and are equally enjoyable.
Joe Henderson’s “Jinrikisha” (from his Page One album) features a wailing solo from Lugerner; the standard “How Deep Is the Ocean?” is taken at a relaxed medium tempo; and Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” starts out in an unusual fashion with a half-chorus of bass clarinet solely accompanied by Heath before Lang joins in. After a rhythmic beginning, Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy,” which closes the date, becomes a swinging medium-tempo blues that really cooks.
Easy to enjoy, It Takes One To Know One finds Lugerner’s bass clarinet perfectly at home in this sparse setting. — Scott Yanow