In the '90s, veteran pianist Junior Mance led a variety of small groups -- some with horns, many without. One of the hornless groups was an acoustic piano trio that employed Keter Betts on upright bass and Jackie Williams on drums. In April 1994, that trio (which subsequently became known as the Floating Jazz Trio) was first assembled for some live performances aboard a Caribbean cruise ship; the following month, Chiaroscuro organized a studio session at engineer Rudy Van Gelder's famous New Jersey studio, and Blue Mance was the result of that session. Produced by Chiaroscuro's Hank O'Neal, this CD finds Mance and his colleagues in excellent form on well-known standards (including "Falling in Love With Love," "Teach Me Tonight," and Johnny Mandel's "Emily") as well as some lesser-known gems. "Shepherd of the Night Flock" isn't among Duke Ellington's more famous pieces, and Mance's engaging trio version makes listeners wish that more jazzmen would do their homework and find Ellington pieces that haven't been beaten to death. But regrettably, a lot of hard boppers are lazy when it comes to the rich Ellington songbook -- they would rather crank out another predictable, knee-jerk version of "Cotton Tail" than investigate all of the great Ellington pieces that didn't become standards. Another overlooked gem that the trio successfully tackles is fellow pianist Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free)," which has a strong gospel flavor. Mance has always had a very bluesy, churchy, down-home outlook, and Taylor's earthy tune turns out to be perfect for him. It also works well for Betts and Williams, both of whom enjoy a strong rapport with Mance throughout this rewarding session.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson