Alec Wilder was born in 1907 and died in 1980, and might well have been described as an eccentric renaissance man. He composed opera, musicals, film music, popular songs, and chamber music, along with publishing in 1975 one of the most read books on popular music: American Popular Song: the Great Innovators 1900-1950.
The Mark Masters Ensemble is a tight knit and imaginative Octet which can stake their claim on mining the gold contained in Alec Wilder's popular catalogue as evidenced by their dedication to the album Night Talk: The Alec Wilder Songbook.
Between 1938 to 1951, Wilder lent his name to several Octet recordings which featured his compositions, but he was never a participant. So it is not necessarily surprising that the Octet format was chosen by Mark Masters for this release. The nine compositions for this session were arranged by Masters and are filled with voicing and coloration that capture the essence of these Wilder compositions.
Starting with "You're Free," this ramped up chart takes off from the opening bars with Gary Smulyan's boisterous baritone sax riding over the band. The chart is filled with distinctly fluent lines and slicing swing arranged in a manner which gives the Octet a big-band sound.
The working relationship between arranger Mark Masters and Gary Smulyan has existed for some 21 years and hence there is a mental telepathy between the two men which gives them a recognition of shared purpose. Accordingly they deliver a session which is flowing with impetuous articulation and shimmering solo showcases.
Many of the compositions in this release are generally not well known, but "Baggage Room Blues" was part of a 1989 Verve album called The Stockholm Concerts featuring Stan Getz and Chet Baker. As delivered here, Smulyan and the group grab hold of the blues theme with exuberant disposition.
The title track "Night Talk" is a wonderfully informed "noir" composition. One can imagine a black and white movie flickering in the background as a cigarette burns in the ashtray on screen. Smulyan is darkly evocative as he ruminates over the band.
Probably the most recorded of the Wilder compositions is "I'll Be Around" which was written in 1942. The lyrics are pure love ballad: I'll be around/no matter how/ you treat me now/I'll be around from now on. Masters' arrangement foregoes this sentimentality, as it surges with a driving swing.
This is an ambitious and harmonically sophisticated retelling of some of Alec Wilder's compositions.
You’re Free; Don’t Deny; Ellen; Moon and Sand; Baggage Room Blues; I Like It Here; Night Talk; Lovers and Losers;
I’ll Be Around.
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