That name should ring more than a few bells and provoke an instant recognition of the prospect of top-flite jazz, 'cause Mike Longo's been at the game for a long time, starting out as Diz's pianist in '66 after being discovered as a teenager by Cannonball Adderly and later studying with Oscar Peterson in what was one of the the most grueling and rewarding periods of his life. That apprenticeship shows everywhere in this latest disc, To My Surprise, a CD loaded up with nothing but first-rung talent: Bob Cranshaw on bass, Lewis Nash on drums, Jimmy Owens on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Lance Bryant on tenor sax. That's it. No guest sit-ins other than that '+2'. No sweetening. Just a quinteted-up trio playing its extremely sophisticated brains out.
What you get is straight-up classic jazz. Not acid jazz. Not jazz lite. Certainly not a drop of The Wave's gooey saccharine breathily cloying sentimentality. Just good honest killer jazz, and God knows there's never enough of that. Owens and Bryant make a great horn section, bringing to the table a full slate of improv chops well based in the melody while sliding witty little embellishments all over the place, the kinda stuff that makes a grooved-out listener grin and softly exclaim "Yeahhhhhhhhh!!" And when they get through, Longo jumps right in, and I'm not sure I can properly categorize his style. You can definitely hear the Oscar in there as well as a quite decent amount of Herbie, but there are also touches of Evans and the swing of Guaraldi.
Bob Cranshaw's bass is the most rock steady of the group, buoying the gents with ample space and rhythm for their work while Nash is icy cool with his kit, complicated and engrossing without sacrificing duties to Cransahw in co-nailing the rhythm section down. And speaking of Herbie, these guys really do frantic justice to his Eye of the Hurricane, an unusually timed ditty of ever-changing shapes and outlines, twisting narrative and skewed linearity, Longo's left hand almost coming from another body, chordally jumping all around the right's dancing figurations. Appropriate, then, that the CD should close out with a bit of a tipsy take on In the Wee Small Hours as the bar closes down, we stagger to the door, and take a nice deep breath of the evening air, dreamily smiling at the good fortune of such a spate of excellent tunes.
And, heh-heh-heh!…A Picture of Dorian Mode. Chuckle! Good one, Mike, good one. Took me a minute to get it properly. Gettin' a little wild on Wilde and musical modalities. Nice!
by Mark S. Tucker