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Mike Longo: Sting Like a Bee

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In recent years, pianist Mike Longo has alternated trio albums with releases featuring his big band, the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble. But, perhaps in inevitable deference to Muhammad Ali, he is following up 2007’s trio session, Float Like a Butterfly, with another, Sting Like a Bee. Longo treats the trio more as an arranging conception than as a steady group; only drummer Ray Mosca, who was on Still Swingin’ and a live album recorded at the Detroit International Jazz Festival, played on more than one disc, and Sting Like a Bee features an all-new lineup of bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Lewis Nash.

But if the players are new, the approach is familiar. Now 70 years old, Longo is a musician steeped in tradition who is not afraid to be explicit about his antecedents. The “West Side Story Medley” refers to the album based on the Broadway musical made by his teacher, Oscar Peterson; “Kush,” the closing track, is a Dizzy Gillespie composition Longo first played on Gillespie’s Swing Low Sweet Cadillac LP when he was in the trumpeter’s band; and the Longo originals “Bird Seed” and “Checked Bags” serve as tributes to Charlie Parker and Milt Jackson, respectively.

Interestingly, there are also apparent influences Longo does not acknowledge. His version of Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” displays the cool melodiousness of Horace Silver, for example, while the precise articulation of the “I Feel Pretty” part of “West Side Story Medley” and the contrasting time signatures in “Kush” suggest Dave Brubeck. Ultimately, however, Longo is more than the sum of his instructors, employers and predecessors, bringing together different styles of jazz piano over the decades into his own hybrid aesthetic.

Originally Published