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October 2007

Frank Morgan
A Night in the Life: Live at the Jazz Standard, Vol. 3
HighNote Records

If you think you’ve heard these half-dozen bebop standards too many times before, reconnect via Frank Morgan’s jubilant alto saxophone expression, nimble lines and personal approach to the changes. There are lessons to be learned throughout this 2003 set at the Jazz Standard, including pianist George Cables’ springy drive, bassist Curtis Lundy’s supple percussiveness and drummer Billy Hart’s agile dance steps.

Opening with Charlie Parker’s “Confir-mation” and ending with “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Morgan maintains a light touch and unhurried poise throughout. Tempos may be fast or less fast—and the altoist can articulate at any speed—but Morgan exudes relaxation, musical maturity and superb self-editing. “Paper Moon” is taken at a delicious slow tempo, with the alto setting the pace unaccompanied for the first few bars. Parker’s “Hot House” proceeds at a lazy, bluesy tempo. “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Half Nelson” and “Billie’s Bounce” complete the challenging set.

Morgan’s story is well known: youthful promise on the L.A. scene in the early ’50s as a follower of Parker, 30 years of drug addiction with intermittent incarceration, and then a triumphant second chance, now in its 22nd year. No wonder his high notes sound like shouts of joy. (Worth noting: Is the ever-swinging Cables the pianist of choice for comeback saxophonists? Consider his stints with Art Pepper and Dexter Gordon in addition to Morgan.)

Originally published in October 2007
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