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The Mark Masters Ensemble: Blue Skylight

Dan McClenaghan By

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Mark Masters has made his name in the banderleader/arranger arena fronting The Mark Master Ensemble, in various forms, with personal tributes to past masters: saxophonist Dewey Redman, Duke Ellington, trumpeter Clifford Brown, and present master, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who played as the featured artist on One Day With Lee (Capri Records (2000). These are all top notch recordings, affording Masters the opportunity to craft his own beguiling interpretations of the artistries of recognized giants of jazz.

With Blue Skylight he embraces two icons: baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and bandleader/composer/arranger Charles Mingus.

The ensemble alternates between Mingus and Mulligan tunes from the more obscure side of their songbooks, laying them down not so much in the spirits of the personalities of the protagonists—mercurial for Mingus; laid back and cool for Mulligan—but rather as redefinitions of the frameworks, with a big dose of Masters' own spirit. The Mulligan pieces feature a four reed front line and a rhythm section. The Mingus compositions drops two reeds and adds a trumpet and a trombone.

In Ellington-ian fashion, Master writes for his players. Alto saxophonist Gary Foster has probably the highest profile of the Mulligan tune's front-liners. He is joined by Jerry Pinter on tenor and soprano saxophones, Gene Cipriano on tenor and Adam Schroeder on baritone sax. On the Mingus tunes, Cipriano and Schroeder sit out, and trumpeter Ron Stout and trombonist Les Benedict sit in.

Beginning with "Monk, Bunk and Visa Versa," a tune that appeared on Mingus' Epitaph (Sony Records, 1990), the sound is packed with swirling, diaphanous, harmonies and inspired soloing all around. And the swing is unrelenting. It is the quality—in conjunction with Masters' superb arrangements—of a foundation laid by a smooth, in-the groove rhythm section perfection that gives the set such a continuity of focus. A tip of the hats for this to pianist Ed Czach, drummer Kendall Kay, and Putter Smith. And two more hat tips to the veteran horn guys, and to Mark Masters for his terrific charts.

Track Listing: Monk, Bunk and Visa Versa; Out Back of the Barn; So Long Eric; Wallflower; Peggy's Blue Skylight; Strayhorn 2; Duke Ellington's Sound of Love; Apple Core; Eclipse; Birds of a Feather; Motel.

Personnel: Gary Foster: alto saxophone; Jerry Pinter: tenor and soprano saxophones; Gene Cipriano: tenor saxophone (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11); Adam Schroeder: baritone saxophone (2; 4; 6; 8; 10, 11); Ron Stout: trumpet (1, 3, 5, 7, 9); Les Benedict: trombone (1,3,5,7,9); Ed Czach: piano; Putter Smith: bass; Kendall Kay: drums.

Title: Blue Skylight | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Capri Records

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