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Mike Longo Trio +2: To My Surprise

Jack Bowers By

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When is a trio not a trio? Well, when it's the Mike Longo Trio +2, which actually makes it a quintet. Such is the case on six of the dozen tracks on Longo's new CD, To My Surprise, which showcases not only the versatile pianist's core group (bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Lewis Nash), but also the impressive talents of trumpeter Jimmy Owens and tenor saxophonist Lance Bryant.

What is apparent from the outset is that everyone is having a grand time. Even though clearly well-rehearsed (and well-recorded), the session has an engaging looseness about it, epitomizing the way it must be when good friends (which these gentlemen certainly are) get together to jam in someone's living room, den or garage. Longo, who passed every test a sideman can bear during his twenty-five years with the legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, eases snugly into any groove, as do the members of his working group, Cranshaw and Nash. Longo plays with warmth and discipline, always aware of where he has been and where he intends to go. His solos are well-constructed, his comping tasteful and responsive. As for Owens and Bryant, they are more than window-dressing, adding weight to the trio while delivering a number of bright and earnest solos (especially on the fast-paced opener, "A Picture of Dorian Mode").

Longo, who composed five of the numbers on this release, writes well. Even so, it is the standards—all performed by the trio—whose familiar melodies (all of which have stood the test of time) remind us of an era when writing popular songs was an art form second to none. Longo plays each one superbly, starting with Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" and continuing with "Old Devil Moon," "You've Changed" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." The album opens with three of Longo's original compositions, "Dorian Mode," "Still Water" and "New Muse Blues," all ably performed by the quintet. Completing the program are Wayne Shorter's "Limbo," Owens' "Magic Bluze," Herbie Hancock's turbulent "Eye of the Hurricane" and Longo's "Alone Again" and "To My Surprise." The quintet is present and accounted for on "Magic Bluze," "To My Surprise" and "Alone Again."

Trio or quintet, To My Surprise is contemporary small-group jazz the way it is meant to be played, with enthusiasm and awareness by musicians who know the game plan and follow it to the letter, all the while leaving ample room for inspiration and, yes, surprise.

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