Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Mark Masters Ensemble; Masters & Baron Meet Blanton & Webster

Arranger Mark Masters has for quite a few years been involved in tribute projects to revered jazz heroes. Two of my faves from past years honor Duke Ellington and Clifford Brown. 
This time Masters and “master” musicians return to Duke’s and Strayhorn’s brilliance. For this session there’s a new rub: The tunes played here all hail from 1940-1942, a period often referred to as the Blanton-Webster band, a very special time and platform for the miracle known as The Duke Ellington Orchestra. 
You’ll know most of the titles. They’re American classics like “All Too Soon”, “I Got It Bad”, “Passion Flower”, “Take The ‘A’ Train”, “What Am I Here For”, “In A Mellow Tone” and such. But the thing that makes Masters and colleagues so special is their magical ability to retain the historical and exceptional quality of these evergreens while carefully updating the arrangements. The trombonist Art Baron is indicated in the CD’s title, and the two Ellingtonians they “meet”, are the bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor sax giant Ben Webster. The solo work is spot-on throughout, and the ensemble sound is simply perfecto! To sum it up, let’s just say that these much loved melodies still breathe beauty, sensibility and high artistic merit in the hands of Mark Masters. 
Capri; 2021; appx. 60 min.

Jeff Hamilton Trio; Catch Me If You Can

If I were to attempt to read Jeff Hamilton’s mind, I think I’d come up with concepts like: real deal; honoring tradition; giving it your best ALL the time; playing with equally gifted musicians; and probably a bunch more. And for these reasons, I’m delighted with every JH album that has come my way for about four decades! He and the pianist on the session, Tamir Hendelman, have worked together in the trio for twenty-two years. And it’s easy to distinguish their intimate, genuine, swinging communication from note one. This CD also introduces their new bassist, Jon Hamar, and he fits the proceedings as though he’s been around for twenty-two years as well. Most of the choices here are either originals by trio members or, in a few cases, refreshing under-performed material from other sources. Tempos range from crystalline and gentle to hard swinging bop in the test of that tradition. The three selections familiar to me all have big band history. All the more interesting that “Bijou” (Ralph Burns), “Big Dipper” (Thad Jones), and “Moonray” (Artie Shaw) are all arranged and performed to perfection by this peerless trio. Thank you, Jeff, Tamir and Jon for keeping it right down the center of the jazz highway. Long may you lead the pack! 

Capri; 2020; 58:02



In recent months I have received several CDs on two excellent jazz labels. Both Tom Burns of Capri Records and Cory Weeds of Cellar Music are to be lauded and thanked for their consistent quality and taste in the production of jazz recordings. Hence, here are a number of reviews mainly devoted to Capri and Cellar.

Happy reading and listening!

George Fendel