Ever since Harry James encouraged him to form his own band in 1978, Pat Longo has been entertaining much of the royalty of the Southern California entertainment kingdom, including Kelsey Grammer, Johnny Mandel, Norman Lear and John Travolta. Considering the depth of musical talent in the area, one needn’t be surprised that Longo was able to record some finely executed albums, as well as offering some exciting arrangements. A review of the listing of members in Pat Longo’s Latin/Jazz Big Band does
reveal some names, such as Christian Jacob or Kim Richmond, who have developed years-long reputations of their own. Reflecting the flavor of much of West Coast jazz, Longo’s orchestra possesses crispness and force that bring to life, this time, various arrangements of Latin music. Indeed, Longo’s orchestra is reminiscent of the characterizing dominance of brass instruments in the Stan Kenton orchestra, and so it’s appropriate that Extreme Heat
would include Kenton’s "Artistry In Rhythm." Although Gary Urwin and Roy Phillippe are credited with the arrangement, the approach to Kenton’s theme song is reverential as it includes many of the same harmonies and many of the horn lines familiar to Kenton devotees, not to mention the famous piano introduction. The same is true of Chano Pozo’s "Manteca," which is kicked off with the spirit of the original recording, down to the spontaneous shout that now has become expected, before the orchestra settles down into a quieter saxophone-led bridge ahead of Carl Saunders’ soaring trumpet solo. Bob Florence’s arrangement of Herb Alpert’s "Rise" is a vast improvement over the original recording as Alpert’s metronomic trance rhythms transform into a bolder, more samba-like, much more interesting version incorporating the full force of the band. Likewise, Florence’s fresh approach to "Rhapsody In Blue" applies the saxophones’ long tones over the percolating percussion, creating the tension of the stretched, seemingly staggered melody over prodding rhythms.
However, the new compositions appearing on Extreme Heat contain the majority of the surprises. Bill Armstrong’s "Lullaby Of Bigfoot," rather than referring to pre-exiting recordings, features a funkier driving rhythm as the rest of the orchestra digs into it to convey the fun that Armstrong intended when he wrote it. Or Armstrong’s "Summertime Down South" takes the raw material of George Gershwin’s "Summertime" and merges its melodic reference points with the infectiousness of a mambo reminiscent of some of Tito Puente’s work.
With technical precision, colorful exuberance and respect for tradition, Pat Longo’s Latin/Jazz Big Band combines accessibility with force to document its own version of Latin music combined with the flair of West Coast-based jazz.