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.

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