NEW YORK STATE OF THE ART JAZZ ENSEMBLE OASIS, the new recording from Mike Longo and the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, is an album of big band music, but completely different than the sounds traditionally associated with the term 'big band.' OASIS is what Longo calls 'contrapuntal music with a forwardpropelling melodic force using a small, modern, be-bop group concept with a 13-piece horn section.' With every new recording, pianist Mike Longo practically teaches a university Masters Class on jazz as he bridges the gap between be-bop and the contemporary era, bringing the best traditions forward while also adding new innovations in rhythm and structure. OASIS, on the CAP (Consolidated Artists Productions) label, exemplifies this blending of old and new. Longo brings impeccable credentials to the project -- he started his career with Cannonball Adderly, studied under Oscar Peterson, became the pianist and musical director in Dizzy Gillespie's band (and played regularly with Dizzy for 22 years), authored nine books teaching music, and performed onstage with countless top jazzsters over the years (Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Krupa, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lee Konitz, Roy Eldridge, James Moody, Buddy Rich and many others). OASIS, Longo's 18th album under his own name, contains his arrangements of 13 tunes (seven are original compositions) for a 17-piece big band (plus a vocalist on three songs) that always includes piano, guitar, bass, drums, four trumpets, four trombones and five saxophones (two altos, two tenors and a baritone) although the sax players occasionally play flute or clarinet, and one trumpet player takes a flugelhorn solo. A few of the horn players vary from track to track depending on which musicians were available for the sessions. The music was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. While Longo often records and tours with his own jazz trio, this larger ensemble began in 1999 and has recorded two previous albums, EXPLOSION and AFTERMATH (which both topped South American jazz polls). This bigger band serves several purposes. 'Our primary motivation is to make music that fills the listeners with as much joy and happiness as possible,' explains Mike. 'We titled the album OASIS because in the type of world we live in today, people need a special place where they can go to simply enjoy music and get away from the harsh realities.' The band also serves as a training ground for younger musicians. 'We have musicians in the band who are in their early twenties and in their seventies, but the experience is invaluable for younger players. The apprenticeship part of jazz has almost been destroyed, so we are trying to bring that back. One of the only places you can learn certain things is on the bandstand in front of a live audience playing with musicians who learned from the early masters of the artform. Now we get to pass along our knowledge.' The New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble plays every four or five weeks at the NYC Baha'i Center in Greenwich Village in the new John Birks Gillespie Auditorium which Longo was able to name after Dizzy. Longo books jazz acts there every Tuesday night with low ticket prices (usually $15; $10 for students) to allow jazz lovers to hear great new music at prices below New York's jazz clubs and concert halls. In addition, Longo's ensemble recordings spotlight his big band arrangements and orchestrations. Longo brings a unique background to the task. In addition to playing in large and small bands with Gillespie, Longo studied classical counterpoint and composition with Frank Fields and Hall Overton, and Longo was commissioned to write music that combined classical and jazz for Dizzy, James Moody and various symphony orchestras. 'This ensemble is not patterned after the call-andresponse big bands from the past like Count Basie,' explains Mike. 'It's set up like a be-bop group that just happens to be playing with a 13- piece horn section. In the old days music was more up-and-down. This is horizontal music with a different beat where everything is reactionary to what is happening at the moment. The arrangements are a loose guide so that each musician can be creative with his parts. That way we get the jazz element of surprise everytime we perform.' Often Longo orchestrates the backgrounds behind the solos, but other times his score directs certain horn players to play their own solo fills behind the written parts. 'Arranging is composing with someone else's themes. Composing is arranging with your own themes. All I need is a theme, a motive, or a germ of a musical idea, and then I just let the music go where it will. My creative tools are melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint and form. As I begin to add parts for the various instruments, I can hear the orchestration start to come to life in my head. For example, I might take a line similar to what Charlie Parker would improvise and write it for the entire horn section.' In addition to Longo on piano, the members of the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble on this recording are bassist Santi DeBriano, drummer Daryll Pellegrini, guitarist Adam Rafferty, vocalist Hilary Gardner and the extensive horn section. The trumpet players are Joseph Magnarelli, Gary Guzio, Freddie Hendricks, Waldron Ricks, Nabate Isles and Seneca Black. The saxophonists are Bob Magnuson, Lee Greene, Gerry Niewood, Frank Perowsky, Matt Snyder and Claire Daly. On trombones are Sam Burtis, Bob Suttman, Eric Goletz, Curtis Fowlkes, Jonathan Greenberg and Don Mikkelsen. 'Some people have asked me why I don't take more solos with this band,' says Longo. 'When we're performing, I'm too busy to take too many solos. First I set up a swinging groove to kick off the tunes. Then I lead the band from one section to another, sometimes filling in between sections. All the time I am pushing various bandmembers at different spots to inspire them and to get the most out of them, and to keep them pumped up and energetic. As part of the rhythm section my role is to set up the pocket that we are playing in and determine how deep and wide it will be. Sure I take an occasional solo, but I tell people if they want to hear piano solos all they have to do is listen to any of my trio recordings.' The album kicks off with 'Bag of Bones' (dedicated to vibraphonist Milt 'Bags' Jackson, a longtime friend and poker partner of Longo's). 'The rhythmic activity on that tune reminds me of the deep, deep waters Bags could create with his rhythms.' 'Chanson,' inspired by Longo's visits to France over the years, demonstrates his arranging of parts in an orchestral manner for this large ensemble. 'Mike's Lament' is a slow blues. Longo's influences can range from the funky-soul beat of James Brown on 'The Godfather' to modern classical composers such as Stravinsky, Bartok and Ravel on 'Infusion.' Another original tune, 'Covenant City,' is dedicated to New York City and employs a contemporary harmonic approach with odd bar phrases. Outside material that Longo arranged includes Hilary Gardner singing Gershwin's classic 'Love Walked In,' standards such as 'Alone Together' and 'Lazy Afternoon,' and Jobim's 'No More Blues' ('That's a partytime song where we do a New York jazz version of the samba'). 'A journalist in the Seventies asked Dizzy if he thought his music was revolutionary, and he said, 'No, it's evolutionary',' remembers Longo. 'I'm one of Dizzy's disciples, carrying the torch onward, so I make a point of always having the music evolve. I don't even play like I did last year. If you compare OASIS to our previous two big band albums, you'll hear quite a bit of growth and change in the structure of the music.'
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