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Mike Longo and the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble: Live From New York!

Dan Bilawsky By

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When trumpet titan Dizzy Gillespie left this earth he left no shortage of disciples behind. His now-legendary peers (i.e. saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson), a cadre of killer Cubans (Arturo Sandoval, multi-reedist Paquito D'Rivera, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, etc.) and a pride of young lions all worked with him, learned from him, and sang his praises, both before and after he departed; so did/does pianist Mike Longo, though too few people seem to recognize him.

Part of the problem, as illustrated above, is that Longo never fit neatly into a category. He was too young to be considered one of Gillespie's peers and too old to be considered on-the-cusp-of-the-new when he left Gillespie's employ. Perhaps that's why he doesn't get the credit he deserves for his work, Gillespie-related or otherwise. The truth is that he's been keeping the flame alive, teaching the next generation and furthering his own craft during his regular Tuesday night gigs at the John Birks Gillespie Auditorium in the New York City Baha'i Center. This recording is a snapshot of one such performance.

On a Tuesday in July of 2013, Longo and his big band—The New York State Of The Art Ensemble—held court at the aforementioned auditorium. In prepping for the recording, producer/saxophonist Bob Magnuson had enough time to set up two tube microphones, say a few words to the soloists about them, hit "record" and take his seat in the reed section; in other words, he didn't over think it and try to suck the life out of the recording. Magnuson simply wanted to capture the sound of Longo's band in action and he succeeded.

The album contains three Longo originals, three vocal features that showcase singer Ira Hawkins and a pair of classics that can be connected to Gillespie—Golson's "Whisper Not" and Denzil Best's "Wee." Those classics bookend the album and turn out to be the standout tracks. A barnstorming and bluesy "Muddy Water" is the strongest of the three vocal tracks, as Hawkins channels Joe Williams, but he also does an admirable job on his own arrangement of "I'm Old Fashioned" and Longo's unique take on "Over The Rainbow." Voice and material just seem to be a bit mismatched on those occasions, as Hawkins' deep and resounding voice seems destined for glory through the blues rather than ballads or easygoing swingers. Longo's originals speak to some different ideas altogether. The laidback, lightly funky "Afro Desia" possesses a simple charm, "Yoko Mama" sounds like it could've been in the Buddy Rich book in the '70s, and "Inner City Hues" is an understated gem.

Longo's band—like Longo himself—may be under-recognized because it occupies a place in an artistic middle ground. It's not pushing progressive art or living out its days as a museum piece, but it fills an important niche somewhere in between those two poles and it sounds great doing it.

Track Listing: Whisper Not; Afro Desia; Yoko Mama; Over the Rainbow; I’m Old Fashioned; Muddy Water; Inner City Hues; Wee.

Personnel: Mike Longo: leader, composer, arranger, piano; Chris Rogers: trumpet; John Replogle: trumpet; Brian Davis: trumpet; Waldron Ricks: trumpet; Bob Magnuson: alto sax; Lee Greene: alto sax; Frank Perowsky: tenor sax: Mike Migliore: tenor sax; Matt Snyder: baritone sax; Sam Burtis: trombone; Nick Finzer: trombone; Nick Grinder: trombone; Earl McIntyre: bass trombone; Tom Hubbard: bass; Mike Campenni: drums; Ira Hawkins: vocals (4-6).

Title: Live from New York! | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Consolidated Artists Productions

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