Steven Lugerner
Photo: Courtesy of Slow & Steady Records

Albert “Tootie” Heath Puts the Swing in Steven Lugerner’s Rhythms

By inviting drumming legend Albert “Tootie” Heath into his circle, jazz reedist Steven Lugerner records five covers with as much reverential care as his drummer.

It Takes One to Know One
Steven Lugerner, Garret Lang, Albert Tootie Heath
Slow & Steady Records
15 April 2022

Modern jazz reedist Steven Lugerner typically spends a lot of time composing new music for a variety of bold new ensembles. He has taken a different, more laid-back approach for It Takes One to Know One. By inviting drumming legend Albert “Tootie” Heath into his inner circle, Lugerner has recorded five covers with as much reverential care for the material as his drummer. Throw in bassist Garret Lang, and you have yourself a “chordless” trio – three instruments that are incapable of playing a musical chord. Lugerner sticks to the bass clarinet for the entire album made up of a Joe Henderson cover, an Irving Berlin cover, an Ellington/Strayhorn cover, and two tunes written by Heath’s older brother Jimmy Heath. When you add it all up, it’s all as easygoing as the cover art depicting three guys sitting on a bench next to a yawning dog.

Of his decision to play the bass clarinet on It Takes One to Know One, Lugerner says, “The standard B-flat clarinet was the first instrument I ever played, and the bass clarinet feels like a mansion of endless rooms to explore.” Indeed, the range and timbre of a bass clarinet are impressive, though most might find it to be an apple vs. orange kind of dilemma when weighing it against the B-flat clarinet. Can you bend a note and wail away on a bass clarinet? Can you delve deep into a basement of sound on a B-flat clarinet? Lugerner shoves all trade-offs aside and sticks to what the bass clarinet offers for this quick 35-minute set.

The two songs composed by Jimmy Heath bookend the album with his ode to the third brother Percy, “The Big P”, starting things off with a brisk but not hard swing. When in the thick of soloing, it’s easy to mistake the bass clarinet for a saxophone. “Gingerbread Boy” concludes the album with a nifty piece of toe-tapping one-note syncopation that Lang compliments beautifully with descending bass notes. A series of entertaining drum fills follow. Heath is one of those gentle giants who can absolutely bang on the kit without making a racket. 

The three selections in the middle opt for smoother and silkier styles over the swing of the Heath numbers. In particular, Joe Henderson’s “Jinrikisha” plays up the blues angle, while “How Deep Is the Ocean?” slows the tempo even more while putting the bass clarinet’s range to the melodic test. Once again, Lugerner scrapes the high notes like a sax player on the verge of a squonk. For “Isfahan”, Lang takes the pace of his walking bass down a notch, matching Heath’s paradoxically busily performed lazy beat. The style of Johnny Hodges is an appropriate point of inspiration for It Takes One to Know One’s relaxed feel, and Lugerner’s solo does the idea justice.

It Takes One to Know One is a respectful release that bows to the presence of “Tootie” Heath and the covers chosen. If things were any other way, they just might not have fit right. Lugerner describes the session as “an opportunity to swing and pay homage to the tradition with a living legend of the music”. It may have been recorded in the summer of 2017, but It Takes One to Know One is proof that music like this sounds good at any time.

RATING 7 / 10