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Mike Longo: Step On It

Dan Bilawsky By

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If you want to hear what pianist Mike Longo enjoys, and how he thinks, you listen to his big band—The New York State Of The Art Jazz Ensemble—which is featured on Live From New York! (Consolidate Artists Productions, 2013); if you just want to hear Mike Longo, you listen to this trio.

Step On It is the third go-round for this group, following Sting Like A Bee (Consolidated Artists Productions, 2009) and the trio-plus-guests To My Surprise (Consolidated Artists Productions, 2011). Both of those albums contain plenty of familiar songs, as does this standards-heavy date, so some might wonder what can really be said here that hasn't been said before. The answer comes through the music and with an analogy that Longo makes: The veteran pianist shrewdly notes that "jazz is like a baseball game." Nothing is really new, yet things are different every single time the ball is in play. Participants in both scenarios react to different stimuli, creating something unique every time they get together play.

Longo and his well-seasoned teammates—bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Lewis Nash—immediately make it clear that they're looking to do their own thing with many of these songs. They start the album with a slower-than-usual swing-funk take on John Coltrane's "Impressions" and a version of "Poinciana" that has no Vernell Fournier beat beneath it. As things continue, Longo and company continue to play with expectations, striking close to the norm on some tunes and taking a divergent path on others.

The band waltzes its way through Joe Henderson's "Black Narcissus," delivers a from-the-mold take on Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island," and visits the work of Longo's erstwhile employer with a driving take on trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's "Blue N' Boogie." While plenty of greats are referenced during this program, saxophonist Wayne Shorter's work gets the most attention. His enigmatic-yet-universal tunes prove to be great choices for this group, as Longo and company deliver a mellow "Nefertiti," an elegant, Brazilian-laced "Ana Maria," and a buoyant-and-lively "Black Nile."

Nobody knows exactly what will happen when players like Longo, Cranshaw and Nash get together, but it's easy to ballpark it and safe to say that some sparks will fly. That they do during Step On It.

Track Listing: Impressions; Poinciana; Step On It; Nefertiti; Ana Maria; Cantaloupe Island; Black Narcissus; Black Nile; My Ship; Blue N' Boogie; Tico Tico.

Personnel: Mike Longo: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.

Title: Step On It | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Consolidated Artists Productions

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