The fourth album by pianist Mike Longo
's stalwart New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble is the first one recorded in front of an audience, in May 2013 at the New York City Baha'i Center's John Birks Gillespie Auditorium. On the one hand, Live from New York!
offers the kind of spontaneity and high spirits a studio date seldom can; on the other, no less than three of its eight tracks are vocals, and their acceptance is a matter of personal opinion and taste. In this quarter, the sentiment is that there is far too much emoting by guest Ira Hawkins
, not nearly enough razzle-dazzle from the band.
That's not meant to impugn Hawkins, even though his delivery is unimposing and his intonation often less than secure, but simply to say that some if not all of his marquee time could have been better spent. The instrumental tracks are fine, from Benny Golson
's classic "Whisper Not" to dummer Denzel Best's devil-may-care "Wee" (enkindling fond memories of SuperSax), with Longo's "Afro Desia," "Yoko Mama" and "Inner City Hues" sandwiched between. As for Hawkins, he gives it the college try on "Over the Rainbow" (best sung by anyone whose last name is Garland), the Jerome Kern / Johnny Mercer standard "I'm Old Fashioned" and the blues evergreen "(I'd Rather Drink) Muddy Water" (Joe Williams
can rest easy). Hawkins arranged "I'm Old Fashioned," Longo everything else.
As this is beyond any doubt an all-star ensemble, there are, needless to say, a number of impressive soloists in the various sections. Those who step forward to prove the point are trumpeter Brian Davis, alto Lee Greene
and tenor Frank Perowsky ("Whisper Not"), trumpeter Waldron Ricks
("Afro Desia"), Greene, trumpeter Chris Rogers and bass trombonist Earl McIntyre
("Yoko Mama"), Ricks and trombonist Nick Grinder
("Inner City Hues"), Rogers and Perowsky ("Wee"). Longo solos on "Whisper Not," "I'm Old Fashioned" and "Inner City Hues," Perowsky on "Muddy Water," trombonist Sam Burtis
on "Over the Rainbow." The rhythm section, tautly anchored by drummer Mike Campenni, is sharp and supportive.
While Live from New York!
offers much good music to savor and appreciate, it could arguably have been more enticing had Longo chosen to focus the spotlight on the ensemble throughout, especially as the album's running time is a less-than-ample forty-eight minutes, more than fourteen of which are consigned to Hawkins' vocals.
Whisper Not; Afro Desia; Yoko Mama; Over the Rainbow; I’m Old Fashioned; Muddy Water; Inner City Hues; Wee.
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).