June 2003

Mike Longo Trio
Live: Detroit International Jazz Festival

At 64, pianist Mike Longo boasts some of the most enviable credentials in jazzdom: apprenticeship with Cannonball Adderley; study with Oscar Peterson; sideman for Dizzy Gillespie on and off for 22 years; writer of more than a dozen books and study courses in jazz; and he owns the label that captured these sounds, Consolidated Artists Productions (aka CAP).

The set of carefully chosen standards Longo played at the Detroit International Jazz Festival last September, with bassist Santi Debriano and drummer Ray Mosca, is an eloquent example of chamber jazz. There isn't a wasted or unnecessary note. Longo's technique is flawless. His harmonic conception is as contemporary and tonal as bebop can take him. Even his "mike-side manner" (each tune is introduced by Longo) is warm, with occasional tongue-in-cheek humor, and he never forgets to credit his sidemen.

What he did forget was to light a spark.

Jazz that swings antiseptically has little chance of catching fire and turning into a series of emotional highs. Debriano and Mosca, however, try to goose Longo consistently, and the best examples can be heard on "Trane's Blues," "Fiesta Mojo," "Footprints" and "Night in Tunisia." Longo's most memorable contributions can be heard on a medley from "Porgy and Bess," and his musical sense of whimsy comes through when he adds a bitonal layer of eccentricity to Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning." But when it came to kicking ass with some hard swing, Longo chose a frustratingly polite approach: more salon than saloon.

Originally published in June 2003
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