It was probably inevitable that the start of the 2020's would see something of a comeback for the Roaring Twenties of the last century. You could say that puts Ben Flocks ahead of the curve for releasing this homage to mark the change of decade... well, except that it's not just rooted in the previous gilded age, and it's not of the roaring variety either. Mask of the Muse is more than a time capsule anyway. It could make a soundtrack for glittering ballrooms full of slinky dresses and dapper suits, but also work just as well for late-night quiet time when nobody is around.
This is a bewitching affair (black tie optional) inspired by golden-age fashion and film noir, with all the mystery and glitzy allure that entails. Flocks handles material associated with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Grant Green and Sam Cooke, all familiar yet appealingly hazy; he and guitarist/producer Ari Chersky don't quite arrange the pieces so much as pour their essence into new bottles. Frank LoCrasto's piano and organ can hint at smoky mystery or tropical breeze, always with the rhythm section of Martin Nevin and Evanh Hughes understatedly keeping step.
It's no coincidence that one-third of the song titles have to do with dreams; from snazzy swing to vaguely edgy blues or a dash of doo- wop, it all drifts by in an atmosphere rich and slightly dangerous. Flocks leads by drawing out his saxophone lines with enough patience and nuance to fit the mood; even when one of his solos picks up the pace, the lines flow smoothly enough not to be jarring. More often, though, he chooses steady and simple, letting the melodies and his unflappable tone speak for themselves. Mask of the Muse goes down like a chilled martini, all cool taste and class; no individual piece really stands out but, overall, the whole quietly dazzles.
Muse's Mask; Dream; Dream of Life; Shangri-La; Street of Dreams; Smoke Rings; Siren's Spell; While a Cigarette Was Burning; Unmasked; Ebb Tide; Duende; Dawning Reverie (Dream of Life).
Ben Flocks: tenor and soprano saxophone; Ari Chersky: electric and acoustic guitar; Frank LoCrasto: piano, organ, Rhodes, Mellotron, Vox Continental, Prophet, glockenspiel; Martin Nevin: upright bass; Evan Hughes: drums and percussion.
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