Mark Masters – Quotes & Reviews

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Ellington Saxophone Encounters by Mark Masters Ensemble:

Similar to the Microscopic Septet’s take on Monk, arrangement-wise if not necessarily in spirit, the Mark Masters Ensemble puts baritone maestro Gary Smulyan out in front as part of a sax quintet plus rhythm section on their recent Capri release, Ellington Saxophone Encounters. The obvious question is why bother? Comparisons to the originals, some iconic, some lesser-known, will inevitably surface – a drive back to Manhattan from a New Jersey studio fairly proximate to where some of these tunes were first recorded, with Midnight at Minton’s blasting all the way, was probably not the optimum way to set up a spin of this album. But these songs are great fun, the band bringing a terse, businesslike approach to Masters’ new charts as well as to individual solos. Alongside Smulyan – a hard bop guy all the way, but also a first-rate bluesman, as he reminds here – there’s Gary Foster and Pete Christlieb on tenors, Gene Cipriano and Don Shelton on altos, Bill Cunliffe on piano, Tom Warrington on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. To be precise, there are only three tracks here by the Duke himself, though most of them are associated with the Ellington band. “Esquire Swank” is the first tune, which interestingly does remind somewhat of the Micros, a distantly moody, proto-Monk swing number that Smulyan gets gritty with immediately. The jump blues benefit the most from Masters’ approach, notably Johnny Hodges’ “Lawrence Brown Blues,” with its purist Cunliffe and Shelton solos. Jimmy Hamilton’s “Get Ready” also features some tasty pairing off between individual voices and the ensemble. “Rockin’ in Rhythm” is ablaze in goodnatured jousting and swirling, more than alluding to its dixieland roots. And the best of all of the tracks here might be “Jeep’s Blues,” matter-of-factly swinging through the classic Ellington combination of magisterial classical, bright ragtime and deep blues elements. The straight-up swing stuff – Paul Gonsalves’ “The Line Up” and “The Happening,” as well as an artfully crescendoing take of Hamilton’s “Ultra Blue” – typically follows a sequence of lively solos. The ballads offer even more of a platform for this, whether wry or wistful. Smulyan gets vividly nostalgic on Carney’s “We’re In Love Again,” while Christlieb’s understated pensiveness carries Ben Webster’s “Love’s Away.” Then the band reaches the top of the arc on Hodges’ “Peaches,” Shelton to Cipriani to Christlieb for an increasingly high-voltage triple play. Fans of Ellingtonia won’t be disappointed; the Duke himself would no doubt approve. Reviewed by, delarue, lucidculture.wordpress.com. (November 7, 2012)
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O’s Notes: Arranger/bandleader Mark Masters assembles a large ensemble focused on Ellington Saxophone Encounters. The featured reedman is Gary Smulyan on baritone sax. He is not alone however as fellow saxophonists Pete Christlieb, Don Sheldon, Gene Cipriano and Tom Warrington also make hay. Joe La Barbera keeps time with Bill Cunliffe tickling the ivory making this dozen classics pop. Masters ensembles always swing and this is no exception, yet another winning set. Reviewed by, D. Oscar  Groomes, OsPlaceJazz.com. (November 2012)
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Often, when one thinks of Duke Ellington, songs like “Take the A Train” and “Satin Doll” come to mind. However, the American Jazz Institute decided to focus on Ellington recordings that were composed by members of his saxophone section. Ellington Saxophone Encounters (Capri Records, 2012) features the Mark Masters Ensemble with baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. “Esquire Swank” opens the set. Smulyan leads, with much of the background provided by other saxophones. Composed by Johnny Hodges and Ellington, this swinging piece is a cool, finger-snapping tune. The recording also visits such titles as “LB Blues,” “Used to Be Duke” and “Jeep’s Blues.” One unique aspect of this recording is there are no other horns. For this type of music, a band usually consists of trumpets and trombones, as well as the saxophones. The liner notes give plenty of detail about the history of these songs with Ellington’s band, including comments about the performances on this recording. However, one glaring shortcoming is the absence of a personnel listing. Apart from a photograph of drummer Joe La Barbera and some isolated references to the soloists, there is nothing to tell the listener who is doing what. Bill Cunliffe is the pianist, and Tom Warrington plays bass. By deduction, the other named musicians are saxophonists: Gary Foster, Don Shelton, Pete Christlieb and Gene Cipriano. Smulyan, the front man for all intents and purposes, is 2011 winner of the DownBeat Critics Poll and Jazz Times Readers and Critics polls for baritone saxophone. He has performed with Woody Herman’s Young Thundering Herd, Joe Lovano’s Nonet, the Dave Holland Octet as well as the Big Band, and Dizzy Gillespie’s All-Star Big Band. Past associations include Freddie Hubbard, Gillespie, Stan Getz, Chick Corea, Tito Puente, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Diana Ross. Reviewed by, Woodrow Wilkins, smoothjazzdaily.wordpress.com. (November 4, 2012)
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Having already recorded tributes to Gil Evans, Jimmy Knepper, Clifford Brown, Lee Konitz, Gary McFarland, and Dewey Redman, bandleader and arranger Mark Masters now takes on Duke Ellington from a unique perspective. The focus is on the Ellington Orchestra’s saxophone section, with compositions by Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Ben Webster, and Harry Carney, some of which were only performed by small groups outside of the Orchestra. A collaboration between Masters, who is also the director of the American Jazz Institute, and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, the saxophone section assembled here is a formidable one in its own right. Smulyan is joined by Pete Christlieb, Gary Foster, Don Shelton, and Gene Cipriano, with a rhythm section of pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Tom Warrington, and drummer Joe LaBarbera. As usual, Masters’ arrangements are, no pun intended, masterful, and the ensemble executes them with great enthusiasm and flair. “Esquire Swank” was co-composed by Hodges and Ellington, and was recorded by the Orchestra in 1946. Cunliffe’s intro is Dukish and the riffing theme reading is smoothly resonant. Smulyan’s solo is forcefully lyrical, while Cunliffe now prances in his own style. Christlieb’s brawny tenor wails and shrieks in appealing fashion, and LaBarbera gets a chance to display his finesse and dexterity. Paul Gonsalves’ “The Line-Up” comes from a 1960 session he led with several other Ellingtonians. Again Cunliffe sounds a bit like Duke in his opening solo before getting into his own swinging gear. This joltingly robust theme is elaborated on with gusto by Cipriano’s tenor, Shelton’s alto, a double dose of Smulyan, and Warrington’s pulsating bass. Masters’ arrangement is rich and diverse with its woven harmonies, vamps, and call and response interludes. “L.B. Blues,” or “Lawrence Brown Blues” is a Hodges tune he recorded live in 1966 with Wild Bill Davis and trombonist Brown. This swaying B-flat blues finds Smulyan rolling and tumbling, Cunliffe in absorbing flight, Shelton silkily midway between Hodges and Benny Carter, and a storytelling Warrington taking a backseat to none of them.

Harry Carney’s only album as a leader included the lovely original ballad “We’re In Love Again” complete with a string arrangement. Smulyan has the stage with just the rhythm trio, and the profound depth of his tone and his warmth of expression carry the day in his exposition, sensitive solo, and skillfully realized coda. Jimmy Hamilton’s “Ultra Blue” was played by the Orchestra on broadcasts in 1945. Smulyan handles the sophisticated melody before Foster’s vibrant alto turn. Cunliffe, Smulyan, and Warrington also solo, with the baritone’s enriched by periodic orchestral bursts. The closing written section blends in Smulyan prior to his reprise. Hodges recorded “Used to Be Duke” in 1954 with his own group. It’s an infectious blues in C that gets a similar stomping treatment here, with resounding Smulyan, a Gonsalves-like Christlieb, and a surging Warrington in the solo spotlight. “Jeep’s Blues” is a well-known Hodges-Ellington head arrangement first recorded by the Orchestra in 1938. Always Hodges’ feature, it’s here portrayed by a simpatico Smulyan channeling Hodges alto phrasing on the bigger horn, as the band serenades him affirmatively. Although recorded for a 1960 Hodges album, Hamilton’s “Get Ready” first appeared on a 1979 Hodges compilation. An E-flat blues, it opens with Shelton’s swirling, polished clarinet improv, and the riffing theme allows for further Shelton exclamations. Cunliffe, Foster, Smulyan, and Warrington all deliver equally absorbing solos, with Smulyan again reaping the benefit of the ensemble’s inspiring vamps. An elongated closing section offers more of the same for those who might wish to overindulge on this piece’s riches. Ben Webster recorded his “Love’s Away” in 1954 with a quartet that included Teddy Wilson, Ray Brown, and Jo Jones. Christlieb’s tenor sings this sultry ballad above Masters’ seductive horn obbligatos. His solo is accomplished, and Cunliffe makes an eloquent plea as well. The final unison group passages, and then Christlieb’s reprise, accentuate the beauty of Webster’s tune. The Carney-Ellington classic, “Rockin’ In Rhythm,” was first recorded by Duke in 1931, and receives a repertory band run-through mostly faithful to the original arrangement. Cunliffe has Ellington’s pianistics aced, but speaks in his own alluring individual manner as well, and LaBarbera harkens back to the “Jungle Band” days. The smaller band sound by a different set of musical personalities, most especially Smulyan’s hearty bari in the breaks, is what sets this delightful version apart. “The Peaches Are Better Down the Road” is a Hodges opus from one of his small group Verve releases. This slow blues with an “After Hours” aura is highlighted by Cipriano’s authoritative, perfectly formed tenor solo, and Christlieb’s assured creativity in an even more extended outing, with the other horns jabbing vamps in high accord. Shelton’s clarinet fills during both the open and close are an additional Masters-conceived attraction. “The Happening” is a perky Gonsalves tune on “I Got Rhythm” changes that was recorded by a Billy Strayhorn-led septet in 1950. Smulyan rumbles and Foster glides through a couple of meaty solos, separated by a boppish Cunliffe. LaBarbera deftly mixes it up amid ensemble parts ahead of a resolute reprise.  Reviewed by, By Scott Albin, JazzTimes.com(October 30, 2012)
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Duke. We return to his music time and again to refresh ourselves at the fountain of brilliance. Of course there is the enormous body of recordings he left us. But there is also the furtherence of his compositions through present-day creations, re-creations and re-arrangements, live and in recorded form. There have been ups and down in this latter aspect of Ellingtonia in the past decades. Not everything done of course is brilliant, classic, or even necessary, and yet all homage to the master does him credit on one or more levels. So be it. While tributes to the Duke are commonplace, tributes to the music of his sidemen decidedly are not. Happily today we have a modern encounter of the latter sort, both unusual and strongly musical in its final form. It is a collaboration between bandleader-arranger-composer Mark Masters and baritone master Gary Smulyan. The music is not that of Ellington per se but some worthy compositions by some of the seminal members of his sax/reed section over the years: Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Ben Webster and Harry Carney. Masters arranged the numbers for what turns out to be a rather stellar cast of musicians: a sax section of Gary Smulyan, Pete Christlieb, Gary Foster, Don Shelton and Gene Cipriano, plus a great rhythm section: Bill Cunliffe, Tom Warrington and Joe LaBarbara. Gary Smulyan in the principal soloist throughout and gives us another look at his essential baritonisms. But other soloists enter the fray with success as well. It’s a repertoire of pieces both quite familiar (“Jeep’s Blues,” “Rockin’ in Rhythm”) and those less so. Everything sparkles in the sax-rich arrangements and the musicians pull together to give you a full program of great sounds. This is something different and special in its own way. It will certainly be appreciated by all Ellingtonians out there. Good show. Reviewed by, Grego Applegate, Gapplegatemusicreview.blogspot.com. (October 24, 2012)
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As good as Smulyan’s solo album, Smul’s Paradise, are his appearances on two other albums deserves mention. On the American Jazz Institute’s Ellington Saxophone Encounters composer, arranger and band leader Mark Masters collaborated with Smulyan to recreate a modern version of some of Ellington’s classic big band era songs. Here Smulyan takes over the role of the master swing-era baritone player of the Ellington Band, Harry Carney, another of Smulyan’s idols. The album has a brilliant array of musician’s who together recreate a sound that is respectful to the original material but modernistic in its approach. Arranger and producer Mark Masters assembled veteran reed players Gary Foster, Pete Christlieb, Don Shelton, Gene Cipriani; drummer Joe LaBarbera, pianist Bill Cunliffe and bassist Tom Warrington, along with Smulyan’s baritone to recreate some of Duke’s most memorable saxophone driven melodies. On “Esquire Swank,” Smulyan transforms the normally biting delivery of his baritone to the full bodied and flowing sound that was Harry Carney’s imprimatur on the Ellington legacy. Pete Cristlieb offers his own high powered solo on tenor in deference to Ellington’s often featured alto soloist Johnny Hodges. On “The Line Up” this enviable reed section features some beautiful ensemble work that is true to the Ellington tradition yet is surprisingly fresh and contemporary. Smulyan adds a bellowing bari solo that is both explosive and beautiful. On “Lawrence Brown’s Blues” Smulyan’s entering solo sets the stage for this swinger. His Carney influenced mellifluous sound bursts with his own impressive fusillade of ideas. Perhaps Smulyan’s most poignant work can be heard on Carney’s bittersweet “We’re in Love Again.” Gary plays this with a heartfelt sensitivity of someone who has made his horn an extension of his being. Smuylan’s dynamics and tone are evocative of a time when the big bands ruled; part Harry Carney, part Ben Webster. It was a time when saxophonists like these and the altoist Johnny Hodges cooed Ellington crowds with their impassioned saxophone solos. Smulyan makes other important contributions to songs like ” Jeep’s Blues,” Rockin In Rhythm” and especially “The Happening.” The album is a veritable powerhouse of big band music at its best with some marvelous performances throughout. A must have for Ellington aficionados. Reviewed by, Ralph A. Miriello, huffingtonpost.com. (October  8, 2012)
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The American Jazz Institute is a Los Angeles-based non-profit that presents concerts and recordings in a wide range of jazz styles. The AJI’s president, Mark Masters, is a talented arranger with an extra talent for gathering superb musicians to realize his scores. On his latest AJI project, Ellington Saxophone Encounters, Masters’ ensemble includes some of LA’s finest reedmen (Gary Foster, Don Shelton, Pete Christlieb and Gene Cipriano) and a brilliant rhythm team (Bill Cunliffe, Tom Warrington and Joe LaBarbera). The album’s special guest is also its only New Yorker, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. The recording is a tribute to Duke Ellington and his saxophonists, but no one tries to copy the sounds of Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton or Harry Carney (although Smulyan’s rough tone offers the flavor, if not the style of Carney). Further, the album’s repertoire is a fresh mix of compositions by the original saxophonists, not just a familiar rundown of Duke’s greatest hits. Masters doesn’t try to emulate the Duke either, offering well-orchestrated charts for the five saxes that launch and support the soloists. There’s a wealth of reed doubles (clarinets, soprano sax, and possibly a second baritone on one track), and it would have been nice if the booklet had listed all of the musicians with a breakdown of the instruments played on each track. Smulyan is easily the most recognizable soloist of the group, with his gruff, bop-inspired sound. He is prominent in the sound mix—even more than Carney on Ellington’s later records—and in addition to solos on nearly every track, he is featured alone with the rhythm section on a beautifully-played Carney original, “We’re in Love Again.” Shelton (formerly with the Hi-Lo’s and the Singers Unlimited) displays his fine clarinet chops on “Get Ready” and “Peaches”, and Christlieb has a splendid tenor solo on Ben Webster’s “Love’s Away”. Foster and Cipriano aren’t featured as much, but they solo well and their ensemble work (especially Foster’s lead) is exemplary. Cunliffe plays in a modified swing/bop style, but never loses his own sound, even when offering flashes of earlier players like Ellington, Erroll Garner and Sir Roland Hanna. Doug Ramsey’s notes tell the recorded legacy of each tune along with well-researched history of their places in the Ellington canon. This brightly swinging album is a fine addition to the legacy of Duke Ellington and his famous sidemen. Reviewed by,Thomas Cuniffe, JazzHistoryonline.com. (October 2012)
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For more than 80 years Duke Ellington’s music has been tantalizing us, and this CD is proof of that. Ellington’s Saxophone Encounters, by the Mark Masters Ensemble, features baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan with four other reed players plus rhythm on 12 tunes written by various Ellington reed-section members. Thus we get Smulyan showcased on fellow baritone saxist Harry Carney’s magnificent “We’re in Love Again,” Gene Cipriano’s alto solo on Johnny Hodges’ lovely “Peaches” (featuring Don Shelton’s clarinet), and tenorman Pete Christlieb’s marvelous interpretation of Ben Webster’s ballad “Love’s Away.” This is a great set of tunes and versions of them using Masters’ arrangements. Reviewed by, Miles Jordan, NewsReview.com. (September 27, 2012)
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The American Jazz Institute is led by Mark Masters, and on its advisory board is baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. The two musicians decided to do a unique tribute CD, and rather than do the more typical book of Ellington compositions, it was time to dedicate a session to Duke’s saxophonists. In addition to recording songs made famous by Ellington’s reed players, why not record tracks either written by the saxophonists themselves, or at least co-written by them with Duke? Thus, Ellington Saxophone Encounters was brought to life. Smulyan is featured on ten of the twelve tracks chosen, but each of the other saxophonists gets featured solo time. Saxophone Encounters honors probably the most well known Ellington reed players: Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves, and Jimmy Hamilton. To make things even more interesting, Masters and Smulyan decided to feature more of the saxophonists’ sidemen recordings rather than those done with the Ellington band. The CD opens with “Esquire Swank”, which debuted in 1945. Smulyan takes lead and pianist Cunliffe has the Ellington touch. Pete Christlieb has a soulful run, and Joe La Barbera demonstrates his mastery of the brushes. Paul Gonsalves wrote “The Line-Up” and Gary Smulyan has two solos here. Gene Cipriano and Don Shelton, who are primarily known for doing studio work in the LA area, get a front line chance to shine and show their mettle. I also dug Bill Cunliffe’s opening choruses which set the stage for the saxophonists. The ensemble playing of the reeds really channel Duke’s saxophone section, which is quite an accomplishment. “Lawrence Brown Blues” written by Hodges to honor Duke’s masterful trombone player, was recorded by Hodges and organist Wild Bill Davis in the mid 60s. It’s a rollicking blues and Smulyan and Shelton share honors, while Tom Warrington provides an assertive bass solo. Harry Carney’s “We’re in Love Again” shows Smulyan as the present day heir to Carney’s legacy. This composition was featured on Harry’s only recording as a band leader, then done with strings, but here it is Smulyan backed by the rhythm section on a gorgeous ballad. Jimmy Hamilton’s “Ultra Blue” is next, and while Jimmy is more known in Duke’s band as a clarinetist, he also played saxophone. Gary Foster, an in demand LA session man, makes his presence felt here with a sweet alto solo. Cunliffe’s sparkling piano gets a few choruses before Smulyan steps in. Warrington’s bass solo follows. Tally Sherwood’s engineering and mixing skills are evident in the pristine acoustics both here and throughout this CD. “Used to be Duke” along with “Jeep’s Blues” are the most well recognized Hodges’ tracks on the CD. Johnny’s sensuous alto tone was immediately identifiable, and here Smulyan’s throaty baritone is lead sax on both tunes (along with Pete Christlieb on “Used to be Duke”). The ensemble feel from the other saxophonists on these two blues classics is superb. (This show has to go on the road…) Jimmy Hamilton’s “Get Ready” clarinet feature has Don Shelton channeling Jimmy effectively, while the ever present Smulyan, Warrington, and Cunliffe, also make statements. Pete Christlieb, one of the most muscular tenor saxophonists on the scene today, tackles Ben Webster’s “Love’s Away” with aplomb. One of Duke’s earliest numbers, “Rockin in Rhythm” gets a 1930s night club arrangement that makes you want to kick up your heels. Hodges’ “Peaches” and Gonsalves’ “The Happening” close out Ellington Saxophone Encounters, and Cipriano and Christlieb shine on the former, while the latter based on “I Got Rhythm” has the ensemble shining like a proper Ellington reed section should. This is a superb CD that is a must buy for both Ellington band fans, and those that appreciate his famous saxophonists’ talents. Reviewed by, Jeff Krow, Audiophile Audition, audaud.com. (September 12, 2012)
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Jazz Ensemble Evokes The Sounds of Ellington Sax Musicians

The Feature CD this week is titled American Jazz Institute presents Ellington Saxophone Encounters. The album is by the Mark Masters Ensemble featuring Gary Smulyan. The jazz group also features Gary Foster, Pete Christleib, Bill Cunliffe, and more. The music is a tribute to the Ellington saxophone section in the Ellington Big Band. Some of the musicians in the sax section were more than side-men even then, and their legacy is heard in the sound of hundreds of modern saxophonists. If anyone likes an “almost” big band sound, then the listener is in for a treat. Reviewed by Melvin Massey Jr., WUMR, University of Memphis, WMUR@ Memphis.edu (September 9, 2012)
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Longtime big band arranger/bandleader Mark Masters happens to be President of the Pasadena, CA-based non-profit American Jazz Institute (AJI), while baritone saxophonist great Gary Smulyan sits on its Advisory Board. Together, the two have often joined forces on musical projects intended to foster and promote jazz; Ellington Saxophone Encounters is another one of their AJI collaborations, this time with the nine-piece Mark Masters Ensemble supplying the musical muscle. Don’t be misled by the title of the album, this is not a typical Duke Ellington tribute album though the Ellington element cannot be denied. Masters and Smulyan decided on a different course, turning their focus from Ellington to music from members of his band. Accordingly, the twelve-piece repertoire contains music from Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Ben Webster and Harry Carney—all members of the Ellington saxophone section over the years. With Smulyan providing the meat of the solos throughout, tenor saxophonists Gary Foster (another AJI board member), Pete Christlieb and Gene Cipriano, as well as alto saxophonist Don Shelton, make sparkling contributions of their own. Many, though not all, of the compositions were performed by Ellington bands, with Hodges and Ellington’s “Esquire Swank,” being one of the earliest. This version not only features Smulyan’s voice as lead but, also embraces stellar lines from pianist Bill Cunliffe, a torrid turn from Christlieb, and drummer Joe La Barbera’s mastery of the brushes and cymbals. Featuring Cunliffe, three of the saxophones and bassist Tom Warrington, Gonsalves’ “The Line Up” comes across as very Ellington-esque in texture, as does “LB Blues.” Masters includes a beautiful love ballad from Carney (the longest-serving member of the Ellington band), showcasing a tender performance from Smulyan on “We’re In Love Again.” Saxophonist Foster weighs in for the first time on Hamilton’s “Ultra Blue,” an Ellington feature during the U.S. Treasury Department tour during the summer of 1945, promoting war bonds. “Used To Be Duke” was a Hodges piece recorded after the saxophonist left Ellington in 1951, only to return four years later; here, a lively pickup piece reminiscent of old time swing and dance. The blues was an import part of Ellington’s music, and to this end “Jeep’s Blues” and “Get Ready,” a tune that may not have appeared in an Ellington performance, are two of the three bluesy compositions, along with “Peaches,” that are a natural for this purpose. Webster’s “Love’s Away” is another gorgeous ballad arranged to feature Christlieb’s tenor voice, ably supported by the entire reed section and Cunliffe’s brief lines. The album begins to wind down with the swinging, New Orleans-style “Rockin’ In Rhythm” and “Peaches,” closing on the hard-driving “The Happening.” The Ellington style is very much pronounced on Ellington Saxophone Encounters, as is expected considering its sources. Smulyan’s rich baritone lead and the superlative performance of the world-class Mark Masters Ensemble both serve to distinguish this homage to a legend as one of the finest recorded to date. Reviewed by, Edward Blanco, AllAboutJazz.com. (September 6, 2012)
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The American Jazz Institute is a Los Angeles-based non-profit that presents concerts and recordings in a wide range of jazz styles. The AJI’s president, Mark Masters, is a talented arranger with an extra talent for gathering superb musicians to realize his scores. On his latest AJI project, “Ellington Saxophone Encounters”, Masters’ ensemble includes some of LA’s finest reedmen (Gary Foster, Don Shelton, Pete Christlieb and Gene Cipriano) and a brilliant rhythm team (Bill Cunliffe, Tom Warrington and Joe LaBarbera). The album’s special guest is also its only New Yorker, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. The recording is a tribute to Duke Ellington and his saxophonists, but no one tries to copy the sounds of Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton or Harry Carney (although Smulyan’s rough tone offers the flavor, if not the style of Carney). Further, the album’s repertoire is a fresh mix of compositions by the original saxophonists, not just a familiar rundown of Duke’s greatest hits. Masters doesn’t try to emulate the Duke either, offering well-orchestrated charts for the five saxes that launch and support the soloists. There’s a wealth of reed doubles (clarinets, soprano sax, and possibly a second baritone on one track), and it would have been nice if the booklet had listed all of the musicians with a breakdown of the instruments played on each track. Smulyan is easily the most recognizable soloist of the group, with his gruff, bop-inspired sound. He is prominent in the sound mix—even more than Carney on Ellington’s later records—and in addition to solos on nearly every track, he is featured alone with the rhythm section on a beautifully-played Carney original, “We’re in Love Again”. Shelton (formerly with the Hi-Lo’s and the Singers Unlimited) displays his fine clarinet chops on “Get Ready” and “Peaches”, and Christlieb has a splendid tenor solo on Ben Webster’s “Love’s Away”. Foster and Cipriano aren’t featured as much, but they solo well and their ensemble work (especially Foster’s lead) is exemplary. Cunliffe plays in a modified swing/bop style, but never loses his own sound, even when offering flashes of earlier players like Ellington, Erroll Garner and Sir Roland Hanna. Doug Ramsey’s notes tell the recorded legacy of each tune along with well-researched history of their places in the Ellington canon. This brightly swinging album is a fine addition to the legacy of Duke Ellington and his famous sidemen. Reviewed by, Thomas Cuniffe, JazzHistoryOnLine.com. (September, 2012)
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Countless albums have been made with the sole intention of honoring the great Duke Ellington by highlighting his personality, piano skills and pile of hits, but they don’t tell the whole story; part of his legacy rests with the men who brought his music to life. The individuals who filled out the roster in Ellington’s illustrious band earned their own place in history by shaping the sound and identity of his group so, rather than tread on well-worn ground, arranger Mark Masters and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan have decided to shine a light on the reed personalities that populated Ellington’s famed front row. Ellington Saxophone Encounters takes a good look at some lesser known works written by the maestro’s saxophone-toting sidemen for various sessions or occasions over the years. Some of the music performed here made it into the Ellington portfolio, while other tunes were used for sessions led by the saxophone individualists given their due on this date, but his influence, ideals and swinging ebullience are stamped all over this set. Masters employs a five saxophones-plus-rhythm unit to bring life to his own arrangements of the music of such Ellington mainstays as alto saxophone icon Johnny Hodges, clarinet wizard (and tenor saxophonist) Jimmy Hamilton, tenor giant Ben Webster, baritone saxophone pillar Harry Carney and tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves—a.k.a “king of the chorus-after-chorus solo.” Some of the music simmers, some of it burns and some of it smolders, but Masters always finds the right temperature to suit each tune. While all five front liners acquit themselves well throughout this date, it’s Smulyan, tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb and saxophonist-cum-clarinetist Don Shelton that shine brightest. Smulyan’s solid-as-a-rock baritone saxophone is kinetic where it counts and proves equally effective in mellow environs (“We’re In Love Again”). Shelton taps into the very essence of the music with his clarinet (“Get Ready” and “Peaches”), but Christlieb proves to be the real breakout star. His pure passion and swinging fire put his work a step above the rest from the very start (“Esquire Swank”) and he never lets up. The rhythm section exhibits the same sense of refined swing that defined the sound behind Ellington’s horns. Bassist Tom Warrington is an in-the-pocket walker who also solos with style and charm, drummer Joe La Barbera lays the groundwork and pianist Bill Cunliffe’s debonair playing is a real treat…and a tribute to Ellington himself. Masters and Smulyan deserve a great deal of credit for crafting such a unique tribute to some of the finest section men and soloists to ever wield saxophones. Reviewed by, Dan Bilawsky, AllAboutJazz.com. (August 30, 2012)
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One of the truly indisputable evidences for the existence of an all loving God is when he allowed Duke Ellington to form his orchestra, and let baritone saxist Harry Carney anchor the sax section for 50 years. Whether it was the early team with Hodges/as, Hardwick/as, Bigard /cl and Webster/ts, or the two score team of Gonsalves/ts, Hodges/as, Procope/cl and Hamilton/cl, the sound that went from velvety smooth to jungle raw was one of the glories of Western Civilization. The American Jazz Institute got a bunch of LA’s best musicians and put out this prime release that sounds like one of The Duke’s experimental sessions for a small band. To say that it’s “just a sax section and rhythm team” is like saying the 1927 Yankees were “just a ballclub.” Gary Foster, Don Shelton, Pete Christlieb, Gene Cipriano and Gary Smulyan make up the reeds, while Joe La Barbera/dr, Bill Cunliffe/p and Tom Warrington/b handle the rhythm chores. Special accolades go to La Barbera, who gets the Woodyard/Bellson groove that made Ellington so, well, Ellingtonian, down to perfection. All of the songs picked from the Ellington Canon feature one of the Hall of Famers from the venerable band, such as “Love’s Away” having Pete Christlieb delving into the inner sanctum of Ben Webster, or Cipriano tipping the hat to Johnny Hodges on “The Peaches Are Better Down the Road.” The head honcho of the show, however, is the bari man Smulyan, who’s presence is felt as the anchor of the horn section on juicy pieces like “Esquire Swank,” or on solo spotlights on “We’re In Love Again.” One of the best things about this collection is that most of the tunes are fairly obscure. Except for “Jeep’s Blues” and “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” you probably won’t have these melodies embedded in your cerebrum, making the sense of discovery all the more enjoyable, and keeping the music fresh, as opposed to some standard rehash. This music will rejuvenate your love for music, maybe even for life, and maybe even make you get out your Bible and sing praises to God, for “everything good comes from above.” Reviewed by, George W. Harris, JazzWeekly.com. (August 30, 2012)
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Masters and Smulyan’s new collaboration on Capri Records pays homage to the outstanding saxophone section that the Ellington Orchestra housed over their numerous years of big band playing.  We hear sounds that pay tribute, and that were actually penned, by classic Ellingtonian horn players Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Ben Webster, and the very often under acknowledged Harry Carney.  Smulyan has always had a big sound on baritone saxophone, and this facet of his playing comes to serve him well in his performance of these men’s music.  He starts the album with a hard hit in his soloing, and throughout the release he plays in this spirit alongside respected saxophonists Pete Christlieb, Gary Foster, Don Shelton and Gene Cipriano.  All of these horn men are backed up with a top notch rhythm section featuring Bill Cunliffe on piano, Tom Warrington on bass, and Joe LaBarbera on drums. This is a hard hitting, exiting album for saxophone enthusiasts, and also for anyone interested in the career of the Ellington Orchestra.  Smulyan recently topped the 60th Annual DownBeat Critics Poll for baritone saxophone, and his playing on the album is indicative of this top honor bestowed upon him.  One should note that the early John Coltrane was much influenced by Johnny Hodges sound on saxophone, and in this Capri release we get to hear more of the compositional talents from such type of underrated figure in jazz history.  The same is true of tenor man Paul Gonsalves, as well as the aforementioned Ellington mainstay on baritone saxophone, Harry Carney.  All in all, this is a strong, driving release for Masters and Smulyan, one that is rich in jazz saxophone tradition. Reviewed by, Dustin Garlitz, Editor:JazzTalent.com. (August 2012)
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Mark Masters, who runs the American Jazz Institute, has brought together a fine group of musicians to play a group of songs associated with the legendary composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. Using baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan as a featured soloist on a number of tracks, Masters arranges for a strong small big band that frames the soloists well, and keeps the performances strong and on point. The album opens with “Esquire Swank” which has a classy devil may care theme, with Smulyan’s baritone bursting free and framed well by the other lush horns. A nice piano, bass and drums interlude and tenor saxophone feature round out a swinging performance. There is a jumping piano trio introduction to “The Line Up” followed by spirited big band horns, and strong and ripe baritone which trades off passages with other saxophones in the group. Also featured is a nimble bass solo with the horns gently shading, before everyone comes back for the conclusion. Written to spotlight the great trombonist, “Lawrence Brown Blues,” is an uptempo performance with baritone soaring over riffing horns and strong drumming. Excellent loping bass moves things along briskly, with different saxophones getting a turn in the brisk arrangement. “Ultra Blue” has a ripe baritone solo giving way to alto sax as the group moves amiably through a medium tempo performance. There is space for rippling piano trio, followed by stately baritone and bass soloing. Riotous riffing announces “Used to Be Duke” before Smuylan breaks out with a confident and fast solo. Saxophones joust and wail over some inspired accompaniment. Luxurious horns on the Johnny Hodges tribute “Jeeps Blues” frame and nearly smother Smulyan’s baritone, who gamely fights for space. “Get Ready” has light saxophone opening, before brawny baritone weaves in and out of the horns. There is a loose, easy feel to this song, like everybody is just playing to have fun. “Rockin’ In Rhythm” is a blasting tune with the horns all chiming in and then laying the foundation for the saxophones to blaze overhead. Drums and piano are key here, developing percussive rhythms that keep the music moving aggressively forward. Focusing on songs that were written or co-written by Ellington’s sidemen gives this album a bit of a different slant, spotlighting some lesser known compositions with fine arrangements and soloing. Reviewed by, Tim Niland, JazzAndBlues.blogspot.com. (August 20, 2012)
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Ellington Saxophone Encounters was conceived by arranger Mark Masters and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan as a tribute to the giants among the bandleader’s sax section, choosing material recorded by both Ellington and by his saxophonists on their own record dates, with most songs having been recorded only infrequently. “Rockin’ in Rhythm” is the oldest piece, debuting in 1931 and still in the book when Ellington finally had to retire from performing shortly before his death in 1974. Smulyan was the prominent soloist, with Bill Cunliffe taking a brief interlude at the piano and Pete Christlieb adding a bluesy touch on tenor sax. “Jeep’s Blues” is an Ellington-Hodges collaboration which premiered in the ’30s and was a staple in the Ellington repertoire even after the saxophonist’s death in 1970. Though Hodges initially soloed on soprano sax for its 1936 premiere recording, he abandoned the instrument in 1940. This version puts the spotlight exclusively on Smulyan’s gritty baritone as the band provides a bluesy backdrop. Lesser known is “Esquire Swank,” part of the three-movement “Magazine Suite” debuted during a 1945 Treasury broadcast. This hip riff, credited to Hodges and Ellington, was only briefly in the repertoire; this setting showcases Smulyan, Cunliffe, Christlieb, and drummer Joe La Barbera (on brushes). Most of the remaining songs come from the sidemen’s small group dates. Paul Gonsalves is mainly known for his famous 27-chorus solo at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, but his “The Happening” is a terrific blowing vehicle based on “I Got Rhythm” changes. This version features both Smulyan and alto saxophonist Gary Foster. Ben Webster’s moving “Love’s Away” is from a 1954 record, with Christlieb not trying to duplicate his unique tenor sound while at the same time retaining the song’s longing mood, followed by Cunliffe’s laid-back solo, though Masters’ chart briefly shifts into a swinging tempo. Jimmy Hamilton was a lyrical clarinetist and raunchy tenor saxophonist in Ellington’s band, his snappy blues “Get Ready,” recorded for a 1960 Hodges album but not issued for almost two decades, features Don Shelton excelling in the composer’s clarinet role. With so many Duke Ellington tributes available that focus exclusively on the most familiar repertoire, it is refreshing to see an arranger like Mark Masters digging deep into the hidden contributions by the men who made up the pianist’s landmark orchestra. Reviewed by, Ken Dryden, AllMusic.com. (August, 2012)
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Ellington Saxophone Encounters features twelve pieces associated with Ellington, including two well-known known gems by the Maestro (“Jeeps Blues” and “Rockin’ in Rhythm”) along with tunes by Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves. All of these provide effective vehicles for extensive blowing excursions for this top-flight West Coast sax ensemble. This group was organized and led by Mark Masters (who also serves the community as President of the American Jazz Institute), who also did the arrangements, which give a nod to Duke without ever attempt to emulate or recreate him, settings which allow this bevy of capable soloists to shine. These soloists include veteran LA reedsmen Dick Spencer, Pete Christlieb, and Don Shelton as well as the crack rhythm team of pianist Bill Cunliffe (ex-Buddy Rich) former Tonight Show bass man Tom Warrington and drummer, Joe LaBarbera, who has side manned with everyone from Chuck Mangione, Bill Evans and Tony Bennett. It’s a line-up about which you might say: that’s not a bad start at all. But the real star of the show, and the only non-West Coaster on the date is New Yorker Gary Smulyan on baritone sax. Soloing on virtually every track, he tenders heartfelt readings of Harry Carney’s “We’re In Love Again” as well as a provocative Jimmy Hamilton ditty “Ultra Blue,” a loping swinger full of chromatic chord sequences that provide so much delight and shade for the soloist to bask in. Gary rises to the challenge with aplomb. Arguably the top modern baritonist in jazz today, Smulyan completely owns a contemporary melodic vocabulary enhanced by a flawless technique but offset by possessing a full and glowing tone that embraces the listener in its warmth and burnished quality. Other highlights include a lesser known Ben Webster composition, “Loves Away,” (originally recorded by Ben with Teddy Wilson, Ray Brown and Jo Jones in 1954) given an updated reading by the wistful yet occasionally blustery tenor of Pete Christlieb. Let us also not overlook the essential role of the Dukian clarinet, handled more than deftly by Don Shelton throughout the date. His three refreshing choruses on Hamilton’s “Get Ready” as well as his obligatto work throughout “Peaches” go a long way to exemplifying this. A super disc from start to finish, Elllington Saxophone Encounters evokes the best of Ellington and Smulyan in a unique and successful collaboration. Reviewed by, Frank Griffith, LondonJazz.blogspot.com. (August 6, 2012)
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Arranger Mark Masters and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan have an empathy that makes magic. It was evident on Smulyan‘s High Noon CD, and here‘s that spark again on Ellington Saxophone Encounters in which Master has assembled a section of wonderful sax players, Gary Foster, Don Shelton, Pete Christlieb, Gene Cipriano plus Gary Smulyan stoked along by the enthusiastic rhythm section of pianist Bill Cunliff, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe La Barbera. This is an Ellington tribute like no other. Master’s mainly uses his own voicing of the sax section rather than just cloning Ellington’s sound except for the nod on “Rockin‘ In Rhythm. The tribute is in the choice of tunes, some Ellington others by Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton and Ben Webster, then there’s the energy and the love of Duke’s music itself. Twelve passionate tracks filled with sculptured solos including Cunliff who often drops in a sly reference to Ellingtonia. With Smulyan playing on fully charged batteries, this is another contender for my CD of the year. Reviewed by, Don Albert, ArtSpoken & Reviews, artlink.co.za. (August 16, 2012)
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Those that travel in my culture inner circle, my jazz mafia if you will know that as a tenor player myself certain releases hit my sonic sweet spot and hit it hard. A veritable all star line up of saxophonists hook up with ace drummer Joe La Barbera, stellar bassist Tom Warrington and first call pianist Bill Cunliffe to do a fresh riff on some of the major forces that took refuge in the Ellington sax section over the years and these include Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster and Harry Carney to name but a few. Capri Records who continues to impress has a street date set of Mark Masters Ensemble’s Ellington Saxophone Encounters on August 21st. The sax section that helps bind this stellar release and inventive arrangements together include Gary Smulyan, Pete Christlieb, Gary Foster, Don Shelton and Gene Cipriano. The rhythm section seems to drive this formidable horn section to new heights of creativity and infuse that grip it and rip it mentality that takes what could be an ordinary cover record and elevate the finished project to a level of artistry that is seldom reached on an iconic discography that seems to have been captured in the studio in virtually every possible way and arrangement imaginable. Master’s is leading the charge as one of the great arrangers of our time as well as running the American Jazz Institute working to promote and advance jazz on a more global scale. Smulyan is simply a beast on baritone saxophone and proudly carries the title as winner of the prestigious 2011 DownBeat critics Poll and Jazz Times Readers and Critics Polls for baritone saxophone and oh yeah…I dig him too! A musical happy place between large jazz ensemble and classic swing orchestra finds no missed steps along the way. An eclectic yet oddly familiar set of tunes highlighted by “Jeep’s Blues” along with “Rockin’ In Rhythm” and “Peaches” is pure entertainment every step of the way. Saxophone fans and Ellington fans should flock to this release in droves. This is pure grade A 100% old school jazz where the musicians do a more modern riff on where the development of these tunes might be today if some of the original cast of characters were still around. 5 Stars! Reviewed by, brent black, criticaljazz.com. (July 24, 2012)
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Ellington Saxophone Encounters
This CD on the Capri label from the American Jazz Institute (AJI) revisits some tunes associated with Ellington sidemen. Composer, arranger and bandleader Mark Masters is head of AJI.  He took an illustrious group and presented concerts this spring.  Then the group went into the recording studio and made this outstanding recording.   Saxophonists included Gary Smulyan, Gary Foster, Don Shelton, Pete Christlieb and Gene Cipriano.  Pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe La Barbera rounded out the octet. Some of the tunes, I confess, were unfamiliar to me.  However all were enjoyable at two levels:
1. Lovely melodic tunes   2. Flawless technique makes one wish to play repeatedly as all nuances are unlikely to be grasped on first listening.

Tune list and composer credits:
Esquire Swank                   Hodges-Ellington
The Line Up                        Paul Gonsalves
Lawrence Brown Blues    Johnny Hodges
We’re In Love Again        Harry Carney
Ultra Blue                           Jimmy Hamilton
Used to Be Duke               Johnny Hodges
Jeep’s Blues                       Hodges-Ellington
Get Ready                          Jimmy Hamilton
Love’s Away                      Ben Webster
Rockin’ in Rhythm            Carney-Ellington
Peaches                              Johnny Hodges
The Happening                  Paul Gonsalves

Some are solo with backing by the excellent rhythm section.  Some are ensemble interspersed with solos.  The liner notes indicate the order of solos, making it easier for the listener to follow. Pianist Bill Cunliffe, one of the outstanding current jazz pianists, gets a good workout here both as accompanist and soloist.  Six-time Grammy award winner baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan is prominently featured. This CD should have wide appeal to the general audience as well as to Ellington aficionados. General release is schedule by Capri on August 21. Reviewed by, F. Norman Vickers, Jazz Society of Pennsacola, jazzpensacola.com. (July 24, 2012)
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Gary Foster, Don Shelton (alt/clt); Gene Cipriano, Pete Christlieb (ten); Gary Smulyan (bar); Bill Cunliffe (pno); Tom Warrington (bs); John La Barbera (dms).

The idea was to take compositions by five of Ellington’s major sax players – Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Ben Webster, Jimmy Hamilton and Harry Carney and arrange them for a sax section comprising of five of today’s leading players. The result, to put it mildly, is sensational! The opening “Esquire Swank” (Hodges/Ellington) hit me right between the eyes! What a sax section sound and what solos! Down Beat Poll Winner Smulyan who co-lead the project with arranger/composer Mark Masters opens up the batting with a blistering, yet melodic, baritone solo with Christlieb on tenor stripping a bit more paint from the ceiling! In between, Cuncliffe plays some Ducal piano and the bar had been set for what was to follow. With the exception of “Rockin’ in Rhythm” and “Jeeps Blues,” this isn’t the normal well-used Ellington fare but instead a choice selection by the above mentioned sidemen. Smulyan is heavily featured in the Harry Carney role bringing a feeling of modernity to the veteran anchorman’s work. “We’re in Love Again” is a particularly sumptuous rendition and, surprisingly, Hodges’ “Jeeps Blues” is also a baritone feature – it works beautifully. Christlieb is a monster of a tenor player covering both Webster and Gonsalves with authority and originality as does Cipriano who comes across as having a definite affinity to Gonsalves particularly on “Peaches” (Hodges).. Foster blows cool sounding alto that blends well and Shelton’s clarinet echoes Jimmy Hamilton without cloning. The saxes may have got the gold medals but listen to Bill Cunliffe’s piano – like Duke – an inspiration throughout. And of course the whole thing couldn’t have worked without Mark Masters’ arrangements and his, pardon the pun, masterly direction of the ensemble. The rhythm section is worthy of any Ellington Orchestra and, although it is barely August, I think this will be well in the running for my record of the year. Ellington Saxophone Encounters by Mark Masters Ensemble. The American Jazz Institute/Capri Records. Release date August 21, 2012. Reviewed by, Lance, lance-bebopspokenhere.blogspot.com. (July 2012)
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The source material in the musical world of Ellingtonia is seemingly limitless.  Ellington Saxophone Encounters (Capri – 74118) is a wonderfully conceived and executed album from the Mark Masters Ensemble featuring Gary Smulyan.  Masters has assembled a first class gathering of reed masters, Gary Smulyan on baritone sax, Don Shelton on alto sax and clarinet, Gary Foster on alto sax, and Pete Christlieb and Gene Cipriano on tenor sax, added a rhythm section of Bill Cunliffe on piano, Tom Warrington on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums, and has created a stimulating journey through twelve pieces written by various players who held down chairs in the reed section of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  Those represented are Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Jimmy Hamilton and Ben Webster.  Except for “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” most of the pieces, many of which were introduced in small group sessions led by the composers, are not ones that have a wide familiarity with the general jazz audience.  That is part of what makes this album so special; the chance to hear some mostly overlooked, but wonderful pieces.  In addition the charts by Masters and the playing by this stellar band is constantly exhilarating.  While Smulyan is the most prominent voice, Shelton, Foster, Christlieb and Cipriano each give us some tastes of their special talents.  Kudos go out to Masters and his cohorts for bringing this music into the spotlight.  Reviewed by, Jersey Jazz. (July 2012)
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Mark Masters – One Day with Lee

The intricacies and subtleties of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz’s playing are usually reserved for small groups, although he got his start with Claude Thornhill’s Orchestra in 1947 and performed with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra in the early ’50s. One Day with Lee (Capri) finds his horn and compositions at the center of Los Angeles based arranger Mark Masters big band. Masters’ charts, at times reminiscent of Kenton but also inspired by the Woody Herman band and Gil Evans’ writing, showcase Konitz with an unusual degree of sensitivity. Not that the alto saxophonist is a delicate player, but neither is he ripe with the emotional extroversion often associated with big band soloists. His modus operandi, learned from studies with pianist Lennie Tristano, is the purity of the improvised line. Cliches’s are off limits. And so when he plays “Thingin,” “Dream Stepper,” “317 East 32nd Street” or another of his tunes based on the chord progression of a familiar standard, you are challenged to follow the ingenious twists and turns of his logic. The reward is recognition of a remarkable sense of melody. Masters’ arrangements do not intrude, and on “317 East 32nd” and “Lover Man” he has orchestrated solos from early in the saxophonist’s career. The saxophone section work in superb, and why not – with Gerry Foster, Jerry Pinter, Jack Montrose and the late Bill Perkins aboard? Masters spreads the solos around throughout the album; on the blues “Cork ‘n’ Bib everyone except the lead trumpeter takes a turn. The soloists are on their best musical behavior, recognizing the high standard set by Konitz. Masters previous big band albums have saluted tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trombonist Jimmy Knepper and trumpeter Clifford Brown. Reviewed by Owen Cordle, The News & Observer.(Sunday April 4, 2004)
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You’d think that by now the influence and relevance of someone present at the Birth of the Cool might be frozen in time, but for Lee Konitz, after 60 years of alto innovation and excellence, reissues, first-time releases and new projects continue to appear at a steady clip. One Day with Lee is the Konitz of today, fronting a 14-piece band on tunes from the leader’s songbook. Konitz has gotten grittier and more expressive since the early days, and he willfully digs into the warm blues on “Cork ‘n’ Bib,” while “317 East 32nd Street” not only inspires the altoist to three improvisations, it draws fire from the saxophone section and solos for trumpet and trombone. Trumpets dialogue on “Palo Alto,” and on “Dream Stepper” and “Gundula” the big band create a spinning color wheel of sound. Konitz says that when he runs out of ideas, he takes the horn out of his mouth. As these CDs show, as he approaches 80, Lee Konitz is a giant of jazz who shows that it’s simply too late to stop now. Reviewed by, Jeff Stockton, AllAboutJazz.com.  (August 2004)
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QUOTES:

Mark Masters, “Priestess.”

“Here, in the great tradition of Stan Kenton, (and) Johnny Richards, we get the legitimate jazz orchestra – and a very good one indeed…Every musician is a firm participant on it and the satisfaction is huge for listeners…Throughout the disc one has to be amazed at how listener friendly this is; even those with only moderate interest in jazz will enjoy what’s going down…Although there is plenty that is scripted, there’s so much here that’s alive, the spontaneity must not have been written down. RAPPORT – W.Y.

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