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Mark Masters: Everything You Did

Dan McClenaghan By

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Rock band Steely Dan released Pretzel Logic (ABC) in 1974. The album was big, one its most successful. But with younger audiences unfamiliar with jazz, the disc surely must have caused some confusion, along the lines of: "What in the world is this 'East St. Louis Toodle-oo?' And what are they talking about with 'Parker's Band?'" The former tune, a three-minute instrumental, closed out side one and it was, of course, from the pen of composer/bandleader Duke Ellington. The latter, a Walter Becker/Donald Fagen original, celebrated alto saxophonist/bebop pioneer Charlie Parker. These nods to two jazz giants may have been lost on many of the young and uninitiated, who may not have realized that Becker and Fagen—soon to be the only remaining constant members of Steely Dan—were huge jazz fans.

But bandleader/arranger Mark Masters, on his first encounter with the group, surely knew of these jazz influences, and with Everything You Did he turns his discerning ear—and his marvelous band—onto the music of the jazz-influenced Steely Dan.

Masters' previous CD offerings—having proven himself one of the 21st century's premier arrangers—included nods to Ellington, Clifford Brown, Lee Konitz; Grachan Moncur III; Dewey Redman, and composer George Gershwin—the last with his stellar remake on Porgy and Bess Redefined! (Capri, 2005). While the art of Becker and Fagen may not rise to gravitas of these former Masters subjects, the duo wrote—and still write—catchy, often quirky, sometimes cerebral and always memorably engaging popular tunes. If gravitas is needed, Mark Masters and this all-star ensemble can inject it.

The familiar tunes are from Steely Dan's early days, when rock radio was still vibrant, including "Bodhisattva," "Show Biz Kids" and "Do It Again." And then there's "Aja," "Josie" and "Black Cow," from the group's best album, Aja (ABC, 1977), a set that included Wayne Shorter and Tom Scott on saxophones, if anyone's looking for jazz cred.

The music, under the baton of Masters, retains its charm and its quirkiness while taking on the beautiful harmonic foundation of a first-rate jazz ensemble, one enhanced an orchestral direction with the inclusion of bassoon, bass clarinet, vibes, and French and English horns. The added bonus—and this is what jazz, in large part, is all about—is the room allowed for lots of magnificent soloing from the likes of trumpeter Tim Hagans, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and alto saxophonist Gary Foster—players who here, as on previous Masters outings, are inspired to the highest level of performance acumen.

"Black Cow" has to be singled out. The original is a Steely Dan classic. Opening with an ominous bass line, it slips into a slinky groove, polished to a high sheen by vibraphonist Brad Dutz, an featuring the every-woman voice of Anna Mjoll, who sounds resigned, a bit exasperated as she sings: "I'm the one who must make everything right."

She makes it exactly right, as does the Mark Masters Ensemble.

Track Listing: Show Biz Kids; Bodhisattva; Do It Again; Charlie Freak; Black Cow; Josie; Fire In The Hole; Kings; Aja; Chain Lightning.

Personnel: Tim Hagans: trumpet; Louis Fasman: trumpet; Les Lovitt: trumpet; Stephanie O'Keefe: French horn; Sonny Simmons: English horn (3); Dave Woodley: trombone (9); Les Benedict: trombone; Dave Ryan: trombone; Ryan Dragon: trombone; Oliver Lake: alto saxophone (10); Gary Foster: alto saxophone (7); Don Shelton: alto and soprano saxophones, alto flute; Billy Harper: tenor saxophone; John Mitchell: tenor saxophone, bassoon; Gene Cipriano: tenor saxophone; Brian Williams: bass clarinet; Brad Dutz: vibes, percussion; Hamilton Price: bass; Peter Erskine: drums; Anna Mjöll: voice; Mark Masters: arrangements.

Title: Everything You Did | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Capri Records

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