Between you and me, I had no doubt whatsoever that pianist Mike Longo was Still Swingin’. When one learns to swing from a master such lessons are never forgotten, and Longo’s teachers have included at least two acknowledged geniuses, pianist Oscar Peterson and Mike’s close friend and mentor, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. Longo served for a number of years as Dizzy’s pianist / music director, and if one wasn’t able to swing in that milieu the maestro would quickly find someone who could. As Longo was with Gillespie until the latter’s passing in January 1993, it should be quite clear to anyone that he more than lived up to Dizzy’s exacting standards. Since then, Longo has remained busy composing, arranging, performing and leading his own big band, the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble. It was while watching Ken Burns’ television series, Jazz, that Longo conceived the idea for this album. “I was really moved,” he writes, “by a segment in which the Basie band was playing an outdoor concert that featured Billie Holiday and Lester Young. When I heard Papa Jo Jones driving that band and the level of swing they were coming up with, and saw the effect it had on the audience . . .I thought, ‘There has got to be a contemporary equivalent of this!’ . . .I decided I wanted to make a contemporary CD that returns to a Jazz concept that swings and causes the gladdening of the human heart . . .” The level of his success, to bend a phrase, lies in the ear of the beholder, but there is no doubt that Longo and his capable partners, bassist Ben Brown and drummer Ray Mosca, have produced an album of trio Jazz that is both aesthetically rich and musically captivating. Longo, says saxophone colossus James Moody, “not only shows his brilliance as a pianist, but the arrangements are stunning, also. This CD is exciting and relaxing, powerful and subtle, all at the same time.” Besides tipping his cap to Longo and the trio, Moody wrote the blues–drenched finale, “Savannah Calling,” one of three original compositions inscribed for the album (the others are Longo’s lyrical bossa, “The Night Is Love,” and his ambling salute to the late bassist Sam Jones, “Bones”). Even though drawn almost irresistibly toward romanticism and elegant phrases, Longo can burn with gusto, as he shows on Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” and Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On.” As for Brown and Mosca, the trait that emerges most clearly is their remarkable capacity to fashion a sturdy rhythmic base without drawing attention to themselves. Thanks to their natural restraint and unflagging expertise, Longo is free to go wherever he chooses, secure in the knowledge that his companions won’t ever let him down. He welcomes their resolute support on every selection but one, Rodgers and Hart’s hauntingly lovely ballad “It Never Entered My Mind,” which he plays unaccompanied. Besides the standards and those tunes already mentioned, John Coltrane is represented by “Trane’s Blues,” Wayne Shorter by “Wildflower.” If this marvelous trio album can’t “gladden the heart” there may not be much heart left to gladden.
Contact:Consolidated Artists Productions, 290 Riverside Drive, Suite 11–D, New York, NY 10025. Web site, www.jazzbeat.com
Personnel: Mike Longo, piano; Ben Brown, bass; Ray Mosca, drums.