2

Mark Masters Ensemble: Ellington Saxophone Encounters

Edward Blanco By

Sign in to view read count
Mark Masters Ensemble: Ellington Saxophone Encounters Longtime big band arranger/bandleader Mark Masters happens to be President of the Pasadena, CA-based non-profit American Jazz Institute (AJI), while baritone saxophonist great Gary Smulyan sits on its Advisory Board. Together, the two have often joined forces on musical projects intended to foster and promote jazz; Ellington Saxophone Encounters is another one of their AJI collaborations, this time with the nine-piece Mark Masters Ensemble supplying the musical muscle.

Don't be misled by the title of the album, this is not a typical Duke Ellington tribute album though the Ellington element cannot be denied. Masters and Smulyan decided on a different course, turning their focus from Ellington to music from members of his band. Accordingly, the twelve-piece repertoire contains music from Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Ben Webster and Harry Carney—all members of the Ellington saxophone section over the years. With Smulyan providing the meat of the solos throughout, tenor saxophonists Gary Foster (another AJI board member), Pete Christlieb and Gene Cipriano, as well as alto saxophonist Don Shelton, make sparkling contributions of their own.

Many, though not all, of the compositions were performed by Ellington bands, with Hodges and Ellington's "Esquire Swank," being one of the earliest. This version not only features Smulyan's voice as lead but, also embraces stellar lines from pianist Bill Cunliffe, a torrid turn from Christlieb, and drummer Joe LaBarbera's mastery of the brushes and cymbals. Featuring Cunliffe, three of the saxophones and bassist Tom Warrington, Gonsalves' "The Line Up" comes across as very Ellington-esque in texture, as does "LB Blues."

Masters includes a beautiful love ballad from Carney (the longest-serving member of the Ellington band), showcasing a tender performance from Smulyan on "We're In Love Again." Saxophonist Foster weighs in for the first time on Hamilton's "Ultra Blue," an Ellington feature during the U.S. Treasury Department tour during the summer of 1945, promoting war bonds. "Used To Be Duke" was a Hodges piece recorded after the saxophonist left Ellington in 1951, only to return four years later; here, a lively pickup piece reminiscent of old time swing and dance.

The blues was an import part of Ellington's music, and to this end "Jeep's Blues" and "Get Ready," a tune that may not have appeared in an Ellington performance, are two of the three bluesy compositions, along with "Peaches," that are a natural for this purpose. Webster's "Love's Away" is another gorgeous ballad arranged to feature Christlieb's tenor voice, ably supported by the entire reed section and Cunliffe's brief lines. The album begins to wind down with the swinging, New Orleans-style "Rockin' In Rhythm" and "Peaches," closing on the hard-driving "The Happening."

The Ellington style is very much pronounced on Ellington Saxophone Encounters, as is expected considering its sources. Smulyan's rich baritone lead and the superlative performance of the world-class Mark Masters Ensemble both serve to distinguish this homage to a legend as one of the finest recorded to date.


Track Listing: Esquire Swank; The Line Up; LB Blues; We're In Love Again; Ultra Blues; Used To Be Duke; Jeep's Blues; Get Ready; Love's Away; Rockin' In Rhythm; Peaches; The Happening.

Personnel: Mark Masters: conductor, arrangements; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone; Tom Warrington: bass; Bill Cunliffe: Piano; Joe La Barbera: drums; Gene Cipriano: tenor saxophone; Pete Christlieb: tenor saxophone; Gary Foster: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone (5); Don Shelton: alto saxophone.

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Capri Records


Shop

More Articles

Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Final Concert CD/LP/Track Review The Final Concert
by John Sharpe
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Desire & Freedom CD/LP/Track Review Desire & Freedom
by Glenn Astarita
Published: February 19, 2017
Read On Hollywood Boulevard CD/LP/Track Review On Hollywood Boulevard
by Budd Kopman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Motorman's Son CD/LP/Track Review The Motorman's Son
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 18, 2017
Read "Refuge In Sound" CD/LP/Track Review Refuge In Sound
by Edward Blanco
Published: April 4, 2016
Read "Tiresia" CD/LP/Track Review Tiresia
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 11, 2016
Read "Goran Ivanovic Trio" CD/LP/Track Review Goran Ivanovic Trio
by Budd Kopman
Published: May 1, 2016
Read "Arrhythmia" CD/LP/Track Review Arrhythmia
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 25, 2016
Read "A Multitude of Angels" CD/LP/Track Review A Multitude of Angels
by Geno Thackara
Published: December 2, 2016
Read "Peace" CD/LP/Track Review Peace
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: December 18, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!