Though veteran jazz pianist Mike Longo has a long and distinguished career that includes a 25-year association with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, To My Surprise documents only the second recording with his existing trio. This follow-up to his very successful Sting Like A Bee (Consolidated Artist Production, 2009), features the same lineup of bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Lewis Nash as the core trio, but a major difference is the inclusion of trumpet luminary Jimmy Owens and tenor saxophonist Lance Bryant on a half dozen tracks, hence the amended group title: Mike Longo Trio + 2.
With an augmented group, Longo's creative juices lead to tight arrangements and an array of soloing on each piece. The album presents fresh treatments of some familiar standards, performed with an exciting modern jazz sound firmly rooted in the finest bebop tradition. The blistering "A Picture of Dorian Mode" is testament to some of the album's hard-swinging nature, reveling in a hard-driving and boisterous start to the session. The blues claims a small portion of the repertoire on the blues-bop shuffle of "New Muse Blues" and Owens' lazily strutting contribution, "Magic Bluze."
It's all about Longo on Wayne Shorter's "Limbo," turning in a classy performance on this brief and delicate number. "Alone Again" is a beautiful, balladic original, featuring brilliant solos from Bryant and Owens (on flugelhorn) over nine enchanting minutes. Two classic vocal numbers receive modern re-harmonizations (Ray Noble's "I Hadn't Anyone Til' You" and the Burton Lane standard "Old Devil Moon"), while Longo vamps two other time-honored standards ("You've Changed" and "In The Wee Small Hours") lightly with the trio.
The title piece is certainly one of the disc's pleasurable surprises, highlighting a smooth trumpet solo and rich tenor phrasing, climaxing with both horns playing distinctly different approaches simultaneously to close, while Nash beats a fast-paced version of Herbie Hancock's high-energy "Eye of The Hurricane" to a whirlwind. In the end there's really no surprise about To My Surprise as Longo, his trio mates and two special guests perform in elite fashion, delivering special musical moments that can only enhance the pianist's reputation as a top-tier jazz artist.
A Picture of Dorian Mode; Still Water; New Muse Blues; Limbo; Alone Again; I Hadn't Anyone Til' You; Old Devil Moon; Magic Bluze; To My Surprise; You've Changed; Eye of the Hurricane; In The Wee Small Hours.
Mike Longo: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Jimmy Owens: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lance Bryant: tenor saxophone.
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