Jazz careers are predictably unpredictable. Some musicians shine young, some are late bloomers, and others maintain a steady flame for decades. Then there's that intriguing handful who come back after years of obscurity; contemporary examples include Henry Grimes, Sonny Simmons, and alto saxophonist Frank Morgan. Born in 1930, Morgan was fortunate to be part of the legendary 1940s Central Avenue scene in Los Angeles. In his early years, Morgan played with Bird, Miles, and West Coast mainstays such as Wardell Gray, but due to jail stays and personal problems, he was absent from the jazz scene almost entirely after the mid-fifties. In 1985 he made a much-heralded comeback, and now in 2004 he's still going strong; witness City Nights.
Recorded live at the Jazz Standard in November, 2003, the CD features compositions by Miles ("All Blues"), Monk ("I Mean You" and "Round Midnight"), and Coltrane ("Equinox" and "Impressions"), plus "Cherokee," "Georgia on My Mind" and "Summertime." Morgan has a rich, clear tone, and he swings with deep expression. Certainly it helps to have good support, and you can't ask for a better rhythm section than bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Billy Hart. Plus pianist George Cables has been playing with Morgan almost 25 years, and they have that magical telepathy so wonderful to witness in jazz. The quartet shines on all the songs, but particularly enjoyable are a buoyant "All Blues" and a warm, shimmering "Equinox."
Despite his stature in the jazz world, Morgan still considers himself a student of the music; as he says in the liner notes, "I'm on a Monk journey." This fresh approach combined with years of experience gives City Nights a wonderful vitality. It's 64 minutes of pure delight, jazz at its classic best played by a living master.
Personnel: Frank Morgan (alto saxophone); Curtis Lundy (bass); Billy Hart (drums); George Cables (piano)