Mike Longo Piano Jazz Trio CD Explores Contrapuntal, Polyrhythmic Swing
Mike Longo - Sting Like a Bee - CD
Mike Longo has been a jazz piano performer for more than 50 years. He was playing weekend “chitlin’ circuit” bar and club dates with Cannonball Adderley in Florida when Mike was still a teenager in high school. He graduated from college with a classical piano degree, toured the country with a jazz group and became one of the house pianists in a jazz club in New York City. He thought he knew his stuff. Then he went to Chicago in the early Sixties to play with a jazz group and while he was there he decided to study at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music founded by jazz pianist legend Oscar Peterson. Peterson started giving Mike private lessons and the youngster remembers, “It was a complete turnaround for me musically. Oscar taught me true jazz piano playing.” Then, legend has it, Peterson was rehearsing his band doing the music from the Broadway musical “West Side Story” in anticipating recording a jazz album of those pieces. He invited Longo to witness the proceedings and the experience affected the young player profoundly. Now, 45 years later, Longo has included a “West Side Story Medley” of material on his own jazz piano trio album, Sting Like a Bee. Although different than Peterson’s versions, it still serves as a tip-of-the-hat to Longo’s mentor. That medley is one of a dozen great improvisational tunes on Longo’s latest album. He shows what he can do on original material as well his own distinctive versions of compositions by Dizzy Gillespie (who Mike played with for many, many years), Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Cole Porter, among others. Longo uses two jazz stalwarts, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Lewis Nash, both of whom seem to have played with just about every new York City jazz musician of the past few decades. The music they make together is not only highly improvisational, it stretches rhythmic codes by sometimes having the individual musicians play in different meters or time signatures, and somehow the music still works. Longo says he learned the art of “polymetric time conception” from Dizzy and now incorporates into his trio performances (as well as the one solo piano piece that closes out the album, “Kush,” written by Gillespie and featuring the polymetric aspect with Longo playing different meters with each hand!). This is a solid modern jazz album in the straight-ahead, traditional, mainstream jazz tradition.