When Junior Mance formed an acoustic piano trio with bassist Keter Betts and drummer Jackie Williams in April 1994, it was obvious that the three jazzmen had a strong chemistry. That group, which came to be called the Floating Jazz Festival Trio, recorded several solid CDs for Chiaroscuro in the '90s; this CD documents some of the trio's live performances aboard the SS Norway (a Caribbean cruise ship) in November 1997. Occasionally, Mance's cohesive trio becomes a quartet. That happens when the big-toned saxophonist Red Holloway has a very pleasing spot on "What's New"; ballads have long been one of Holloway's strong points, and his alto solo is predictably soulful. The disc's other quartet performance is "Junior's G Blues," a 12-bar jazz-blues item that features guitarist Henry Johnson. Regrettably, many of Johnson's over-produced pop-jazz/smooth jazz projects don't give him enough room to stretch out and improvise, but that isn't a problem when the Chicagoan solos on the very straight-ahead "Junior's G Blues." Those two tracks are the CD's only quartet offerings; Mance excels as a trio pianist on standards that include "Lover Man," "Falling in Love With Love" (which is also on the trio's Blue Mance session of 1994), and "Take the 'A' Train" -- in other words, the sort of great-but-overdone standards that jazz fans have heard time and time again over the years. It would have been nice to hear Mance's Floating Jazz Festival trio tackle some songs that haven't been done to death; even so, this CD is a solid, rewarding document of the group's SS Norway performances of 1997.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson