Opportunities for jazz musicians to perform with the music’s legendary figures are becoming more and more rare. The value of working with, and learning from, these elder statesmen has been elemental in the development of the music. Drummer Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath is not only a living bridge to the heroes of the golden age of jazz but he was also critical in the evolution of drumming during one of jazz’s most fertile periods. Both pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street realize the importance of their collaboration with Heath. The trio’s new recording, “Tootie’s Tempo,” is a showcase of the group’s fantastic interplay in the style that Heath grew up with and has perfected.
After moving to New York City from his native Havana in 2000, pianist/composer Manuel Valera began making inroads on the scene with the likes of Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Lenny White while also working with fellow countrymen Dafnis Prieto, Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. On his Grammy nominated disc of last year, he made an incremental leap in fusing modern jazz with Latin rhythms. With “Expectativas,” the second recording with his potent New Cuban Express sextet, he takes things up a notch in a program of alluring ballads, cha cha chas and boleros along with invigorating timbas and descarga jams. Returing from the previous outing are core members John Benitez on bass, Tom Guarna on guitar and Yosvany Terry on reeds. Drummer Ludwig Afonso and percussionist Paulo Stagnaro are the new recruits on this sophomore session by the exciting new ensemble.
Also this week, Trombone Shorty serves up his third helping of groove-conscious soul jazz and modern NOLA funk on “Say That to Say This”; Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer fame offers up her first solo effort in seven years with “Nightsongs: A Late Night Interlude”; and saxophonist Adam Brenner’s debut disc, “The Long Way Home,” features pianist David Hazeltine and bassist John Weber.