There are a lot of fine composers writing for large jazz ensembles today, so many that some names can get lost in the shuffle. Mark Masters is a case in point. You don'r hear about him often, possibly because many of his recordings feature his ensembles playing the music of other composers like trombonist Grachan Moncur III, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. However the music on Our Metier all comes from Masters' own pen and it shows what an ingenious and exciting writer he is.
These works were written for a combination of sextet and large ensemble. There is a lot of conventional big band punch in the music but the presence of forward-thinking masters like Oliver Lake and Andrew Cyrille signify that there are more advanced ideas in the mix as well. That is shown in "Borne Towards The Stars" where a classic dark slice of suspenseful big band jazz is invaded by Lake's alto squeaks and irritants as well as Tim Hagans' blaring trumpet and Craig Fundyga's ghostly vibes. Anna Mjoll's whispered vocals add a touch of mischief to the upscale dance groove of "51 West 51st Street" and the hip walking blues of "Lift." "51st Street" also features Cyrille showing off his funk drumming skills and Dave Woodley moaning low on trombone while "Lift" has Lake and Fundgya conversing like Eric Dolphy and Bobby Hutcherson over Putter Smith's solid walking beat.
"Dispositions of the Heart" is a beautiful ballad where Gary Foster plays haunting alto over a lush ensemble scored like a Henry Mancini love theme. "Obituary" is a brassy up-tempo melody powered by Cyrille's crisp drumming with strong solo statements coming from Hagans and saxophonist Mark Turner. "Luminisence" is a slow blues that contains several special moments like a plush trio of voice, vibes and bass clarinet and a remarkably slithery tenor solo by Turner. "Ingvild's Dance" is a swirling waltz with Foster and Turner whirling through the melody in unison before going into soaring solos, and "Our Metier" ends the set with a tipsy, deceptively lurching melody. The brass and reed sections argue, Lake gets rowdy and Hagans frolics, all as the bass and drums slide, dip and shake beneath them. In addition to all this, there are two short improvised pieces by smaller groupings from within the ensemble. On "Precis of Dialogue" Foster and Turner engage in soulful soliloquies over rustling bass and drums, while on "In Our Time" Lake, Hagans and Woodley exchange bellows, smears and runs as Smith and Cyrille jog around them.
Mark Masters' music shows a great respect for jazz history and big band tradition but also has a lot of room for creativity and individuality. He knows how to give strong personalities like Lake, Turner and Cyrille room to do their things and put them into imaginative settings. This album shows he should be considered among the first rank of modern jazz composers.
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.
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).