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Mark Masters Ensemble: Our Metier

Dan McClenaghan By

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Mark Masters, an extraordinarily talented and perhaps undersung arranger of large ensembles jazz, has spent a good deal of artistic energy on crafting recordings that explore other people's compositions. His Capri Records output includes The Clifford Brown Project (2003), celebrating the sounds of the too-soon-gone trumpet legend; Porgy and Bess (2005), from the George Gershwin songbook; One Day With Lee (2004), a celebration of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz; Farewell Walter Dewey Redman (2008), a nod to another great sax man; and Blue Skylight, a immersion in the music of the rock group Steely Dan (2017); along with nods to Duke Ellington and more.

With Our Metier Masters changes course and steps out with a set of his own compositions.

Masters paints complex, intricate, detailed jazz landscapes, and he has always invited some of the most adventurous and innovative players into his ensemble. Looking to put him, as a big band arranger, into one of the "camps"—the schools of Ellington or Gil Evans or Bob Brookmeyer, etc.—doesn't work. His voice is original, free ranging, and occasionally "out there," but it is an "out there" tethered to the tradition.

If you only listened to his Capri Records output, you could wonder if Masters writes original compostions. The work there has always been focused on someone else. But those someone elses got the distinctive Masters treatments. So it could be said of Metier, an album that presents Masters' compositional voice: "It's about time."

Masters proves himself as adventurous a composer as he is an arranger here, employing a sextet of all stars alongside his ensemble of six brass horns, three reeds and piano (on three tunes) and vibes (on six tunes). The colors the group creates are off-center, glowing with luminescence. Solos from alto saxophonists Oliver Lake and Gary Foster, trumpeter Tim Hagans and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, often daredevil affairs, are always inspired by the detailed ensemble backdrops.

The set's opener, "Borne Toward The Stars" starts off in an otherworldly mode before shifting into a Mingus-like urgency and a bandsaw solo by Oliver Lake. "51 West 51st Street," introduces a new sound to the ensemble, the wordless vocalese of Anna Mjoll, a smooth nightingale purity rising up from a bed of reeds in the opening, leading into a bright, stinging solo by trumpeter Hagans. The music swirls and swoops. Mjoll contributes a gorgeous scat solo on "Lift" that elevates the sound into another dimension of loveliness. "In Our Time" brings the music into a freer zone. It is a group improvisation from the core sextet—jagged, searching and dark, a tipsy amble down the alleyway behind the wrong-side-of-town watering hole.

Our Metier is a superbly crafted set of large ensemble jazz, full of complex harmonics and idiosyncratic solo spots, on a first-rate set of Mark Masters' originals.

Track Listing: Borne Towards The Stars; West 51st Street; Lift; Ingvild's Dance; A Precis of Dialogue; Dispositions of the Heart; Obituary; Luminescence; In Our Time; Our Metier.

Personnel: Mark Masters: leader, arrangements; The Sextet: Tim Hagans: trumpet; Oliver Lake: (alto saxophone; Gary Foster; alto saxophone; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Putter Smith: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums; The Ensemble: Anna Mjoll: vocals; Scott Englebright: trumpet; Les Lovitt: trumpet; Dave Woodley: trombone; Stephanie O'Keefe: French horn; Kristen Edkins: alto saxophone; Jerry Pinter: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Bob Carr: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Ed Czach: piano (4,6,7); Craig Fundygo: vibraphone (1,3,6,7,8,10).

Title: Our Metier | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Capri Records

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