The golden age of big bands ebbed long ago and the economics and logistics of maintaining large groups in today's music climate make a comeback unlikely. Despite these difficulties, there are champions of the big bandthose who don't assemble all-star groupings merely for one-offs, but develop their music with a stable band.
One such standard bearer, pianist Mike Longo, leads his seventeen-piece New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble on their third CD, Oasis. Working with four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, guitar, bass, drums, piano, and guest vocals on originals and standards, Longo may not reinvent big band music, but he rejuvenates it with contemporary touches and trim, unpredictable arrangements that spark enthusiastic performances.
A trio of Longo compositions opens the set, establishing the tone with tightly woven ensemble playing and surprise sonic elements, such as Matt Snyder's bass clarinet solo and trombonist Sam Burtis' nod to Monk on "Bag of Bones." With taut arrangements clocking in under eight minutes, there's not a parade of soloists on each piece; instead, the few soloists make their points quickly and succinctly, enlivening the tunes and avoiding repetition. Bassist Santi Debriano puts his melodious stamp on the episodic "Chanson," while tenor saxophonist Frank Perowsky punctuates the measured blues of "Mike's Lament" and the briskly paced "Infusion," with its advanced harmonic schemes.
Other modernist influences are displayed in "The Godfather," inspired by the legendary James Brown and featuring a dynamic turn by guitarist Adam Rafferty. Even classic standards are refreshed, using clever rhythmic variationsa salsa beat for "Alone Together" and a bossa nova groove on "The Night We Called It a Day," also boasting Hilary Gardner's breezy vocals for additional sheen.
The results on Oasis are satisfyingly listenable, offering the classic big band sound without staid clichés and leaden chart readings.
Track Listing: 1. Bag of Bones (5:43)
2. Chanson (6:25)
3. Mike's Lament (4:57)
4. Love Walked In (1:50)
5. Alone Together (6:18)
6. Infusion (5:29)
7. The Godfather (6:21)
8. Lazy Afternoon (7:17)
9. Covenant City (4:20)
10. Nocturnal Sea Voyage (7:33)
11. The Night We Called It a Day (6:21)
12. No More Blues (5:10)
13. Song of My Dream (for Duke) (5:54)
Personnel: Mike Longo--piano,
Bob Magnuson--alto sax,
Lee Greene--alto sax,
Frank Perowsky--tenor sax,
Gerry Neiwood--tenor sax,
Matt Snyder--baritone sax,
Clarire Daly--baritone sax,
Special Guest: Hilary Gardner--vocals