All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Extended Analysis

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

6

Mark Masters Ensemble: Mark Masters Ensemble: Ellington Saxophone Encounters

Greg Simmons By

Sign in to view read count
It could be argued that the core of bandleader Duke Ellington's wonderful textural sound was the way he harmonized his reed section, with great woody chords and lush polyphonic melodies. That reed section, with the great Johnny Hodges leading on alto, stalwarts like Paul Gonsalves on tenor and Harry Carney on baritone, as well as shorter-term itinerants like the incomparable tenor player Ben Webster, was one of the most well-oiled machines in jazz history. It was glorious.

So it's wholly understandable that a group of saxophonists would jump at the chance to make a record of Ellington's music without inviting the brass. The Mark Masters Ensemble's Ellington Saxophone Encounters goes straight to the heart. But not only is it playing Ellingtonia, it is playing tunes that were penned by Ellington's saxophone players themselves. Although Ellington is credited on a couple of tracks, there's not a single Ellington-Billy Strayhorn composition on the date.

This saxophone lineup clearly has the necessary talent to capture the Ellington sound. Baritone player Gary Smulyan is the featured soloist on a most of the tracks. Tenorist Pete Christlieb—a first rate player in his own right—is a great addition. The other multi- reedists are Gary Foster, Don Shelton and Gene Cipriano. It's worth mentioning them together because—in an unfortunate oversight—the liner notes neglect to list the players with their instruments, and since some of these exceptional players are not household names figuring them all out required Google.

Musically they deliver in spades. This band is at it's best when it plays full force reed melodies. "Used To Be Duke" puts it all in the open with its orchestrated equivalent of bugle call. "Rockin' In Rhythm" is one of the Ellington orchestra's most distinctive melodies, with saxophones overlaying saxophones in a jump swing bounce. The solo turns are excellent as well, but these songs are all about tight group playing and tricky melodies. These guys pull them off brilliantly. Also, pianist Bill Cunliffe, nails Ellington's distinctive intro on "Rockin" and contributes fantastic fills and solos throughout.

The Hodges-Ellington composition "Jeeps Blues" reduces that same textural richness to let the harmonies sink in. It's evidence of just how brilliant Ellington really was as an arranger. He just understood sound and how to manipulate it in such a unique and personal way. Masters' arrangements hew close to Ellington's compositions and that's the smart way to go. These songs were essentially perfect when they were written fifty, sixty or seventy years ago. There's no reason to mess with them now.

Of course it's hard to listen to a record of Ellington's music without thinking—at least a little—of brass players such as Cat Anderson, Tricky Sam Nanton and Bubber Miley. The brass certainly made a great contribution to the Ellington orchestra over the years as well. But for this date the reeds have the stage. Ellington Saxophone Encounters carves out a really important piece of Duke Ellington's music—the reeds—and highlights them with a terrific performance. And who knows, maybe for his next gig Masters will throw the brass back in, and that would be something worth hearing as well.

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

Personnel: Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone; Peter Christlieb: tenor saxophone; Don Shelton: saxophone, clarinet; Gary Foster: alto saxophone; Gene Cipriano: saxophone; Bill Cunliffe: piano; Tom Warrington: bass; Joe LaBarbera: drums.

Title: Mark Masters Ensemble: Ellington Saxophone Encounters | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Capri Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Monk, Bunk and Vice Versa

Monk, Bunk and Vice Versa

Mark Masters
Blue Skylight

CD/LP/Track Review
Extended Analysis
Read more articles
Blue Skylight

Blue Skylight

Capri Records
2017

buy
Everything You Did: The Music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

Everything You Did:...

Capri Records
2014

buy
Mark Masters Ensemble: Ellington Saxophone Encounters

Mark Masters...

Capri Records
2013

buy
Everything You Did

Everything You Did

Capri Records
2013

buy

Related Articles

Read Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 Extended Analysis
Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Love, Gloom, Cash, Love Extended Analysis
Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Motel Shot: Expanded Edition Extended Analysis
Motel Shot: Expanded Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 16, 2017
Read Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead Motion Picture Soundtrack Extended Analysis
Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead...
by Doug Collette
Published: July 14, 2017
Read Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe  Edition Extended Analysis
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th...
by Doug Collette
Published: May 27, 2017
Read Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Deluxe Edition Extended Analysis
Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: May 20, 2017
Read "Love, Gloom, Cash, Love" Extended Analysis Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read "Chick Corea: The Musician" Extended Analysis Chick Corea: The Musician
by John Kelman
Published: May 2, 2017
Read "Motel Shot: Expanded Edition" Extended Analysis Motel Shot: Expanded Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 16, 2017