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Lanny Morgan: Pacific Standard

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Morgan is as full of bebop fire as when he was a young featured soloist with Maynard Ferguson’s incendiary big band of the early ’60s. Not as well known as alto saxophone contemporaries like Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, Bud Shank and Frank Morgan, he is equally fluent in the language developed by Charlie Parker and speaks it eloquently in this set of ten standard songs.

The repertoire is pieces by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Julie Styne and other popular composers without whose work jazz players would have far fewer vehicles for improvisation. The rhythm section, sparked by drummer Joe LaBarbera, includes pianist Tom Ranier and bassist Dave Carpenter, Morgan’s colleague in the Bill Holman band.

Among the highlights are Morgan’s and Rainier’s intricate counterpoint in “The Song is You,” Morgan’s hard swing in the Zoot Sims tradition on “I’ll Remember April,” the incisiveness of Carpenter’s work throughout, and LaBarbera’s ability to maintain precision, compelling swing and perfect time. The combination of those three attributes is sufficiently rare among drummers that musicians have adopted as a kind of mantra Jimmy Rowles’ epigram, “so many drummers, so little time.” It’s no wonder that Bill Evans valued LaBarbera.

Morgan has long been known as an up-tempo specialist who loves to wail. “It’s You or No One,” with its blistering tempo and Coltrane-like unison introduction, is essence of Morgan the speed demon. He takes no tune in the album slower than a medium-fast walk, with one notable exception. On “Body and Soul” he discloses reflection and astringency that verge on Art Pepper’s bittersweet ballad style. It is an area that he might profitably further explore.