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The Mark Masters Ensemble: Blue Skylight

Jack Bowers By

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California-based composer / arranger Mark Masters, who has already recorded salutes to Clifford Brown, Jimmy Knepper, Dewey Redman, Steely Dan, the Gershwin brothers and even the Duke Ellington saxophone section, directs his attention and considerable talents this time around to the music of a pair of legendary jazz trend-setters who were in many respects polar opposites: bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.

To amplify his purpose, Masters made two pivotal decisions, each of which serves to enliven the enterprise. First, he chose lesser-known but no less engaging compositions by Mingus and Mulligan; and second, he trimmed the size of his ensemble to a septet to more closely exemplify the group size for which Mingus and Mulligan wrote most often, even though they were equally adept at composing and arranging for larger ensembles. Variety is assured by alternating front-liners, with saxophonists Gene Cipriano and Adam Schroeder replaced on five of eleven numbers by trumpeter Ron Stout and trombonist Les Benedict.

Mingus is represented on the odd-numbered tracks, Mulligan on the even until the final number, Mulligan's "Motel," a deeply-grooved showcase for Schroeder's earthy baritone sax. One of the more charming aspects of Masters' arranging is that he doesn't over-write but instead earmarks ample room for blowing, which his sidemen undertake with abandon. Besides those already named, they include soprano / tenor Jerry Pinter , alto Gary Foster, pianist Ed Czach, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay, each of whom is given one or more chances to shine, and none of whom fails to deliver the goods.

Aside from "Motel," the best-known Mulligan theme presented here is probably "Apple Core," performed in the day by various small groups as well as Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band, while Mingus' relatively more familiar works include "Peggy's Blue Skylight" and "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love." Smith's resonant bass introduces a too-seldom-heard gem, "So Long Eric," Mingus' fond farewell to one of his trailblazing contemporaries, saxophonist Eric Dolphy. Masters, an astute and perceptive arranger, readily ensnares the spirit of Mingus and Mulligan, while his ensemble leaves no phrase or nuance unchecked.

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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