Pianist Mike Longo has a couple of things in common with legendary heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali: first, they both employed the same phrase throughout their careers"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee"and second,, they both deliver quite a punch, Ali with his fists and Longo on the keys. Sting Like a Bee
dedicated to Longo's father, who passed away in 2009is Longo's follow-up to Float Like a Butterfly
(Consolidated Artist Productions, 2007) and does not pull any punches, providing quite a musical wallop. Along with bassist Bob Cranshaw
and drummer Lewis Nash
, the trio provides tasteful improvisational jazz, recorded live in the studio with primarily first takes and only one rehearsal. That Longo and his band mates have never performed as a trio before makes Sting Like a Bee
all the more amazing.
Longo played with Dizzy Gillespie, where he evolved a playing style owing primarily to Oscar Peterson, his mentor and teacher. He pays homage to Peterson here by including "West Side Story Medley," in tribute the late pianist's West Side Story (Verve, 1962), ending the program with a tribute to Gillespie on a dark rendition of the trumpeter's "Kush." Though claiming Peterson as the main influence in his career, Longo chose not to feature any of the master's compositions for this project. Instead, the dozen-tune repertoire features several originals among a mix of covers from luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Cole Porter and Kurt Weill.
Longo's fine selection opens up with a vibrant rendition of Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil," adding a modern touch to the melody. Performing a slow motion walk on the keys, Longo plays Shorter's balladic "Dance Cadaverous" with a measure of feeling, engaging with Cranshaw's bass and Nash's steady cymbal accents. Porter's "Love for Sale," though remaining true to the melody and treated with respect, tends to overextend in length, clocking in at nine-plus minutes. There is an especially lively read of Clifford Brown's classic "Daahoud," where the pianist and Nash trade broadsides just like Brown and drummer Max Roach did in their historic collaboration, Clifford Brown & Max Roach (EmArcy, 1955).
Longo explores a bit of Latin jazz by providing some heat on one of Clare Fischer's signature tunes, "Morning," featuring Nash's percussive prowess along with an infectious Latin rhythm. In quiet contrast, Longo changes direction and mellows out with the oft-recorded Weill cover, "Speak Low," performed as a slow balladtender and sweet. Among the originals on the disc, "Someone to Love" and "Checked Bags," both ballad-like slow burners, round out the album's light jazz theme. Longo pulls together one very fine album with Sting Like a Bee,offering sparks of brilliance and plenty of honey; that's the real buzz on this album.