How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Any big band that can make Porgy and Bess swing has my approval. Pianist Mike Longo’s New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble not only enlivens a medley of tunes from George Gershwin’s groundbreaking folk opera, it pulverizes without remorse every other chart during a fabulous coming–out party on Longo’s Consolidated Artists label. After forming the band, Longo spent a year gigging around before shepherding everyone into a recording studio to document their prowess. The time invested together paid dividends, as the ensemble — in whose ranks are a number of New York’s most accomplished soloists and sidemen — is sharp and focused from arrival to departure. The NYSAJE provides a lavish banquet, and for dessert Longo serves up a tantalizingly even–tempered helping of Duke Ellington’s fundamental Jazz axiom, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Which, of course, it don’t. The ensemble comes out swinging hard (shades of SuperSax!) on Sonny Stitt’s smoldering “Eternal Triangle” (featuring Frank Perowsky’s tenor), and while I’d have welcomed a slightly faster tempo, I’m not one of those who had to play it. Next up is the first of three compositions by Longo, “Blue Gil,” an assertive blues inspired by Longo’s memories of composer / arranger Gil Fuller. Tenor Frank Basile, guitarist Adam Rafferty, trombonist Wayne Andre and trumpeter Virgil Jones brighten the landscape with enterprising solos. Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty,” a medium–tempo charmer with solo space for Longo and alto Lee Greene, is followed by the 12–minutes–plus Porgy and Bess medley, scored by Longo and featuring Perowsky’s clarinet (“Summertime”), Jones’s trumpet and Bob Suttmann’s trombone. Longo composed “Frisco” for a quintet, and it was amplified for the band by Dick Cone. Again, topnotch solos by Jones, Basile (flute), Rafferty and alto Bob Magnuson. The Jazz waltz “Dancing on the Moon” was written in 1970 as a feature for Longo’s close friend Dizzy Gillespie who played it on The Dick Cavett Show. Jones sits in for Diz on this new version. Gillespie, for whom Longo served as music director / pianist, is represented by two of his radiant compositions, “A Night in Tunisia” (showcasing Suttmann, Longo, lead trumpeter Joe Shepley and tenor Bob Curtis) and the polyrhythmic, polymetric and Afrocentric “Kush” (with solos by Greene, Jones, trombonist Sam Burtis and baritone Matt Snyder). Bassist Lyn Christie’s arco is front and center on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lyrical “Younger Than Springtime” from the celebrated musical South Pacific. By slowing Ellington’s flag–waver to a bluesy crawl, Longo gives the ensemble a chance to show beyond a doubt that swing can appear in all guises and tempos. A marvelous debut for New York City’s newest kid on the big–band block.
Track listing: Eternal Triangle; Blue Gil; Along Came Betty; Porgy and Bess medley; Frisco; Dancing on the Moon; A Night in Tunisia; Younger Than Springtime; Kush; It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) (70:30).
Mike Longo, leader, piano; Joe Shepley, Burt Collins, Virgil Jones, Ryan Kisor, Greg Gisbert, Seneca Black, trumpet; Wayne Andre, Sam Burtis, Bob Suttmann, trombone; Johnathan Greenberg, bass trombone; Bob Magnuson, alto sax, oboe, English horn; Lee Greene, alto sax, clarinet, flute; Frank Perowsky, Frank Basile, tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Bob Curtis, tenor sax, clarinet; Matt Snyder, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Adam Rafferty, guitar; Lynn Christie, Cameron Brown, bass; Darryl Pellegrini, drums.
Contact: Consolidated Artists Productions, 290 Riverside Drive, Suite 11