In 1961, while performing in Chicago, pianist Mike Longo was introduced to one of his musical heroes, Oscar Peterson. After hearing him play, Peterson invited Longo to study with him at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto. Needless to say, Longo accepted eagerly, and spent six months absorbing wisdom from the master. It's an experience he still considers "the most important step in [his] life, one that led to Longo's successful alliance with Dizzy Gillespie, first as pianist in the legendary trumpeter's quintet and later as Gillespie's music director.
Having already recorded a tribute to Gillespie with I Miss You John (Consolidated Artists 912), Longo has dedicated Float Like a Butterfly to his longtime friend and mentor, Oscar Peterson. It's a lovely, warmhearted homage, superbly played and splendidly recorded. Even though Longo is his own man, Peterson's influence remains immutableone can sense it in a well-turned phrase, an emphatic block chord, a flashy right-hand run, a bluesy overtone, a subtle yet pivotal inflection. Longo was an earnest student, and it shows.
While Longo shoulders much of the melodic workload, bassist Paul West is solid as a rock and Jimmy Wormworth evinces a quality that is in short supply among contemporary drummers, and that is restraint. The way he deftly guides the bus past every roadblock without calling attention to himself reminds me of Roy Haynes, Ed Thigpen, Jimmy Cobb and other masters of tasteful timekeeping.
Peterson's recording of "Tenderly, says Longo, "was the inspiration that shaped the direction of the rest of my life, and he has chosen to play it here "as an expression of my love for [Oscar] and the life experience that proceeded from my initially hearing him play it. "Tenderly is one of five graceful standards, and if I am partial to them that's simply a matter of personal taste, as the half-dozen originals (including Longo's "Diminished Returns ) are quite pleasing in their own way.
Indeed, the trio is bright and cheerful on Wayne Shorter's "Witch Hunt, Freddie Hubbard's "Blue Spirits, Thelonious Monk's "Evidence and former employer Dizzy Gillespie's "Here Tiz, as it is on "Girl of My Dreams, "Dancing in the Dark, "It Could Happen to You and "Laura. This is an impressive tribute to a legendary pianist and remarkable teacher, and if Oscar Peterson has tuned in I'm sure he must be smiling and applauding.