Junior Mance: The Floating Jazz Festival Trio, 1998

Here’s an album that gives new meaning to the phrase “blown out of the water.” During a 1998 Caribbean cruise aboard the S.S. Norway, the scheduled trio of pianist Junior Mance, bassist Keter Betts and drummer Jackie Williams were doing their straightahead thing when some special guests, who happened to be in the neighborhood, joined the romp: altoist Lou Donaldson and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval brought their horns; Etta Jones brought her blues-drenched voice. The blend of surprises and spontaneous organization resulted in high-quality jazz.

The irrepressible Mance dominates the playing, whether soloing or comping; Sandoval is explosive (surprise!) but eloquent; Donaldson is laid-back and filled with musical humor; and Jones, whether it’s blues or standards, you can understand her every syllable. Mance develops his solos intelligently and transparently: check “How Insensitive,” with its smooth transition from pure funk to delicate bossa nova, and halfway through the tune there’s a quote from “Hawaiian War Chant.” That’s more than humor, that’s chutzpah!