It would be difficult to think of five jazz tunes that have been more overworked than Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on My Mind," Ray Noble's "Cherokee," George Gershwin's "Summertime," Miles Davis's "All Blues" and Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." But Frank Morgan works them all one more time on his new album, "City Nights," recorded live at the Jazz Standard in Manhattan. Rounding out the set with another Monk number and two by John Coltrane, this disc is an extreme example of an under-rehearsed combo sticking to obvious repertoire, playing conservatively on the head and taking turns at solos.
For all that, "City Nights" is not without its pleasures. Even at age 70, after a stroke in 1998 and many years lost to heroin and prison, Morgan still has a distinctively sweet and lyrical voice on the alto sax, even if he's not as consistent as he once was. He is backed by the superb rhythm section of pianist George Cables, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Billy Hart. On "All Blues," they provide a throbbing pulse that allows Morgan plenty of room to not only "croon" Davis's melody on his horn but also to reconfigure the tune into new shapes.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Thursday through Sept. 11 at Blues Alley. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Frank Morgan, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8108. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)