212

Mark Masters Ensemble: Porgy & Bess Redefined!

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Mark Masters Ensemble: Porgy & Bess Redefined! More than any complete score of the 20th Century, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess has to be the one most covered by jazz artists. A short list of significant players who have tackled the cycle includes Hank Jones, Oscar Peterson, Ray Charles and Cleo Laine, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and Joe Henderson. Arguably the most definitive arrangement of Gershwin's score is the one Gil Evans created for Miles Davis in the '50s.

So vivid was Evans' score, in fact, that Clark Terry, working with Jeff Lindberg and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, revisited his original arrangements on a successful A440 recording last year. But while Terry, an early influence on Davis, was a logical choice to reinterpret Evans' score—and, to be fair, Lindberg's vision managed to respect it without sounding strictly imitative—one has to wonder how many times Porgy and Bess can be reworked. How often one can go to the well before it comes up dry? In the case of Mark Masters' new take, Porgy & Bess Redefined!, the answer is: at least once more.

Masters is a fine arranger, having already done memorable work on projects including The Clifford Brown Project and The Jimmy Knepper Songbook. His work with re-emergent trombonist Grachan Moncur III on last year's Exploration, where he arranged some of Moncur's best charts for an octet/nonet, was a clear highlight in an already strong year for jazz. And so, rather than revisiting existing arrangements of Porgy and Bess, Masters returned to the source: the original vocal scores. The result is a fresh look at an almost iconic work.

In addition to a fine ensemble that includes a broader orchestral palette—bassoon and French horn supplementing the usual saxophones, flutes, trumpets, and trombones—Masters has assembled an A-list of soloists, including trumpeter Tim Hagans, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, trombonist Dave Woodley, pianist Cecilia Coleman, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Joe La Barbera. And, no surprise, everyone gets ample solo space and acquits themselves with the kind of élan and sensitivity to Masters' score that one would expect from players of this calibre.

But Masters' score is the real star here. From the opening fanfare, "Introduction, he introduces the two contrasting elements that, to a large part, define his approach to the whole suite—vibrant swing and some surprisingly free passages. The other predominant characteristic is Masters' unrestricted sense of time; "Summertime alternates between a more expected relaxed lope and insistent double-time passages that bring a new complexion to an often-covered standard. And "It Ain't Necessarily So starts off with a big band swagger but ultimately breaks down into smaller ensemble sections for fine soloing by Harper, Hagans, Woodley, Coleman, and Drummond.

It would be presumptuous to call Masters' new take on Porgy and Bess definitive; but with Porgy & Bess Redefined!, he clearly proves that it's possible to take a piece that has been approached from a variety of angles and still find a new way in.


Track Listing: Introduction; Summertime; A Woman is a Sometime Thing; Gone, Gone, Gone; My Man's Gone Now; It Ain't Necessarily So; Here Come Da Honey Man; I Loves You Porgy; A Red Headed WOman; Clara Clara; There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York

Personnel: Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Tim Hagans (trumpet), Gary Smulyan (baritone saxophone), Dave Woodley (trombone), Cecilia Coleman (piano), Ray Drummond (bass), Joe La Barbera (drums), Don Shelton (alto flute, soprano and tenor saxophones), John Riley (bassoon, tenor saxophone), Stephanie OKeefe (French horn), Bob Carr (bass clarinet on My Mans Gone Now, Here Come Da Honey Man, A Red Headed Woman, Theres a Boat Dats Leavin Soon for New York), Greg Huckins (bass clarinet on Summertime, A Woman is a Sometime Thing, Gone, Gone, Gone, It Aint Necessarily So, Clara Clara), Tom Delibero (trumpet), Louis Fasman (trumpet), Les Lovitt (trumpet), Les Benedict (trombone), Bill Roper (tuba)

Year Released: 2005 | Style: Big Band


Shop

More Articles

Read Over the Rainbow CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Before The Silence CD/LP/Track Review Before The Silence
by John Sharpe
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1 CD/LP/Track Review Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Backlog CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by Mark F. Turner
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Process And Reality CD/LP/Track Review Process And Reality
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 24, 2017
Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read "Near Life Experience" CD/LP/Track Review Near Life Experience
by John Kelman
Published: June 27, 2016
Read "Shoebox View" CD/LP/Track Review Shoebox View
by Karl Ackermann
Published: May 26, 2016
Read "Binary" CD/LP/Track Review Binary
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 19, 2016
Read "Oakland/Lisboa" CD/LP/Track Review Oakland/Lisboa
by John Sharpe
Published: August 19, 2016
Read "Pittsburgh" CD/LP/Track Review Pittsburgh
by Jack Bowers
Published: July 23, 2016
Read "Roots & Transitions" CD/LP/Track Review Roots & Transitions
by Budd Kopman
Published: July 4, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!