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Frank Morgan: City Nights

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After taking the West Coast jazz scene by storm in the mid-’50s, altoist Frank Morgan was out of the studios for some 30 years, after which he recorded 14 albums in an 11-year span. But after 1996, Morgan’s recording career again experienced a dry spell that lasted until this taping at New York’s Jazz Standard in November of 2003, a month shy of the altoist’s 70th birthday. In the intervening period, Morgan had suffered a stroke. Happily, neither his age nor his medical problems are the least bit evident on this sparkling recording with pianist George Cables, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Billy Hart.

Morgan’s fingers and ears are perfectly coordinated on such challenges as “Cherokee” and “Impressions,” both taken at breakneck tempos. And his sweet, singing tone caresses the venerable melodies of “Georgia on My Mind,” where he stays close to the tune, and “‘Round Midnight,” on which he lovingly paraphrases Monk’s melody. On Monk’s difficult “I Mean You,” Morgan swings loosely as he generates an abundance of uncliched ideas.

The consummate Cables consistently plays perfectly timed, melodically inventive lines, one such being his long, upward-moving, two-hands-together passage on “All Blues.” Lundy and Hart complement Morgan and Cables ideally.

The set was completely unrehearsed and even unplanned. Except for a spot in “Cherokee” where disagreement about the tune’s form surfaces briefly, the informality of the session, with its resulting in-the-moment freshness, was a good thing.