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Mike Longo with the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble: Aftermath

Ordinarily, an earthquake is stronger than its aftershock. That may run contrary to Mike Longo’s personal seismograph. Last year he recorded a big band CD for CAP, calling it Explosion; as a follow-up he added to its magnitude by using an even bigger band, with virtually the same personnel, and called it Aftermath.

It boasts seven trumpets, five trombones, six reeds and four rhythm players. Surely Local 802 is happy, but while Longo thinks big, he doesn’t write big. No massed sonorities a la Kenton. The accent is on sparkling solos and charts where the texture of Longo’s writing allows inner voices and passing tones to be heard: Matt Snyder’s bass clarinet on Coltrane’s “Naima”; the gossamer flutes and clarinets on “Love Dreams”; the remarkable arco of Lynn Christie and the piccolo postscript by Frank Basile on a 5/4 bossa nova, “Day Spring.” Dizzy’s supersonic “Wee” is the greatest challenge: Longo transcribed and orchestrated a Sonny Stitt solo for the six saxes that is literally breathtaking. It has shades of Supersax and features great dueling solos with memorable soli.

The connecting link between Aftermath and his latest trio recording, Still Swingin’, is the hauntingly beautiful “It Never Entered My Mind.” Longo wrote a reverential score for the tune on Aftermath, but he did not take a solo. He makes up for that with the same ballad on Still Swingin’, to the point where it is strictly solo. No rhythm. So much freedom that it’s often rubato and goes through many key changes.

Lots of freedom and stretch-out room for the rhythm section of bassist Ben Brown and drummer Ray Mosca. On “Without a Song,” you’d swear it was Ray Brown, with those waves of bass triplets in the background that threaten to steal the spotlight from Longo. On the Rollins line “Oleo” and “From This Moment On” the tempo reaches mach-three, yet Longo and Brown insist on unison. Amazingly they pull it off, threatening to steal the show from each other. (Well, as close as they can come to unison at that altitude: there are certain piano filigrees a bass cannot duplicate.) Mosca is not given enough time in the limelight, but he makes the most of the gaps he can find, and also contributes some tasty brushwork.

Two fine showcases for Longo: as arranger and as pianist, he reveals no weaknesses.

Originally Published