Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Mark Masters Ensemble: Blue Skylight

Capri Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Blue Skylight

Trumpeter Mark Masters is an accomplished musician in his own right, but is better known as a producer/arranger of concerts and recordings that honor artists who are — or have been — jazz icons. The subjects of this release are Charles Mingus and Gerry Mulligan. Both were outstanding musicians — Mingus on bass, Mulligan on baritone sax — but this release features their accomplishments as composers and arrangers.

The album’s 11 tunes aren’t familiar jazz classics, but instead those that Masters considers best illustrate their skills as composers. Five are from Mingus, six from Mulligan. 

Masters’ ensemble colleagues are Gene Cipriano, Gary Foster, Jerry Pinter and Adam Schroeder (reeds); Les Benedict and Ron Stout (brass); and a rhythm section of Ed Czach (piano), Putter Smith (bass) and Kendall Kay (drums). All have played with a veritable Who’s Who in jazz, and it’s interesting to note that Masters and many of these guys can be considered senior citizens. And oh my, they do play and swing!

Although Mingus and Mulligan are best remembered for their up-tempo tunes, half of this album’s charts are done as ballads: “So Long, Eric,” “Wallflower,” “Strayhorn 2” and Ellington’s “Sound of Love” are beautiful examples. The artistry of these musicians shines on such tracks; their experience and “feelings” produce truly beautiful solo passages throughout.

Everybody clearly is enjoying the gig, and having a lot of fun; listeners will feel the same.

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