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Mark Masters Jazz Ensemble: Porgy & Bess Redefined

Jack Bowers By

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In the seven decades since its completion, George Gershwin's landmark folk opera Porgy & Bess has been "redefined on a number of occasions by various jazz artists, perhaps most notably in 1959 by trumpeter Miles Davis with an orchestra conducted by arranger Gil Evans (a touchstone that was astutely reinterpreted only last year by Clark Terry with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble). Arranger Mark Masters now steps forward to take his shot, a well-aimed broadside that may not redefine Gershwin's groundbreaking work but certainly sprays fresh air into its musical score and does no harm to Masters' stature as a world-class marksman.

Masters introduces some brief dissonance that Gershwin wouldn't have recognized, or perhaps appreciated, especially on the brief "Introduction and "Clara, Clara, as well as "Gone, Gone, Gone and "It Ain't Necessarily So. But for the most part he respects the composer's purpose, adding only those colors brought to bear by his imaginative use of a polished sixteen-piece ensemble comprised of first-rank Los Angeles-area musicians. Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trumpeter Tim Hagans and/or trombonist Dave Woodley are out front on most numbers, with other engaging solos by pianist Cecilia Coleman, baritone Gary Smulyan, bassist Ray Drummond, flutist Don Shelton and drummer Joe LaBarbera.

Thankfully, Gershwin's unrivaled melodies remain for the most part intact, and so we are able to appreciate such masterpieces as "Summertime, "I Loves You, Porgy, "It Ain't Necessarily So and others as they were meant to be heard, enhanced by Masters' inventive charts. When swing is required, Masters is blessed to be able to call on Coleman, Drummond and LaBarbera, as able and responsive a rhythm section as one could envision. They're sharp and in command on the up-tempo arrangements—"Summertime, "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing, "It Ain't Necessarily So, "Red Headed Woman and "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York. Even though three numbers—"Introduction, "Here Come de Honey Man, "Clara, Clara —are less than two minutes long, the overall playing time is a respectable 61:24.

Porgy & Bess Redefined? Perhaps that's too broad an assertion. Reconsidered, certainly, and to some extent reconstructed. But however one describes it, there's no doubt that Masters and his ensemble have produced a version of Porgy & Bess that is somewhat original and essentially rewarding. Another round of applause, please, for Gershwin and for Masters.


Track Listing: Introduction; Summertime; A Woman Is a Sometime Thing; Gone, Gone, Gone; My Man

Personnel: Mark Masters, conductor, arranger; Tim Hagans, Tom Delibero, Louis Fasman, Les Lovitt, trumpet; Don Shelton, soprano, tenor sax, alto flute; John Riley, tenor sax, bassoon; Billy Harper, tenor sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Dave Woodley, Les Benedict, trombone; Bob Carr (5, 7, 9, 11), Greg Huckins (2-4, 6, 10), bass clarinet; Stephanie O

Title: Porgy & Bess Redefined | Year Released: 2005


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