The Mark Masters Jazz Orchestra: Early Start

Jack Bowers By

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I’d heard the Mark Masters Jazz Orchestra before and been disappointed — not by the orchestra itself but by the recording, which sounded dry and sterile, almost as though it had been recorded in someone’s closet or a telephone booth. This reissue on Americatone is much better, both sonically and aesthetically. Masters has fashioned his ensemble in the image of the wonderful Stan Kenton Orchestra, and the eight selections on this album were all composed and / or arranged by writers who at one time or another were associated with Stan. There are many times when Masters’ orchestra sounds so much like Kenton’s that almost anyone would be misled in a blindfold test — for example, by Ken Hanna’s deft use of muted trumpets and trombone choir on his lovely “September Morn,” Dee Barton’s shouting brass on “Turtle Talk” or Hank Levy’s Kentonesque arrangement of “A Time for Love,” featuring sumptuous ensemble passages by trombones, brass and reeds. Every chart, in fact, enfolds to some degree elements of the Kenton style, and Masters’ orchestra often sounds like the ghost band that Stan never wanted. The album opens and closes with brightly swinging compositions by Don Piestrup, “Dance” and “Early Start,” and includes, in addition to the selections already mentioned, Bill Holman’s rhythmic “Film at Eleven,” his driving arrangement of “Out of Nowhere” (which showcases the splendid trombonist Dave Woodley) and Hanna’s handsome treatment of the ballad “You Must Believe in Spring.” Besides Woodley (also heard on “Turtle Talk”), the orchestra’s most prominent spokesman is alto saxophonist Dan House who is featured with pianist Howard Begun on “You Must Believe in Spring” and solos again on “September Morn,” “Turtle Talk,” “Film at Eleven” and “Early Start.” Good as he and Woodley are, however, it is the consistently brilliant charts and marvelous ensemble work that carry the day. If there’s a downside, it lies in the 40:47 playing time, as Americatone reissues vinyl albums with no bonus tracks. On the other hand, Early Start contains almost forty–one minutes of big–band music that’s close to a mirror image of Stan Kenton’s, and that may be all the bonus one needs.

Contact:Americatone International, 1817 Loch Lomond Way, Las Vegas, NV 89102–4437. Phone 702–384–0030; fax 702–382–1926. Web site, www.americatone.com

Track Listing: Dance; September Morn; Turtle Talk; A Time for Love; Film at Eleven; You Must Believe in Spring; Out of Nowhere; Early Start (40:47).

Personnel: Mark Masters, musical director; Louis Fasman, Steve Rentschler, Larry Stone, John LeFebvre, Bobby Pickwood, Les Lovitt, trumpets; Eric Jergensen, Kevin Bradley, Dave Woodley, trombones; Ken Sawhill, bass trombone; Clint Sandusky, bass trombone, tuba; Dan House, Zac Johnson, Kennan Miller, Charles Richard, Dave Gregg, Mike Badel, reeds; Howard Begun, piano; Bill Saitta, bass; Dave Marks, drums; Billy Jackson, congas.

Title: Early Start | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Americatone

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