Mark Masters Ensemble - Our Métier

Label: Capri Records, 2018

Personnel includes – Mark Masters: composition, arrangements, conduction; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Oliver Lake: alto saxophone; Gary Foster: alto saxophone; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Dave Woodley: trombone; Bob Carr: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Anna Mjoll: vocals; Craig Fundyga: vibraphone; Putter Smith: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums; and more.

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American bandleader and trumpet player Mark Masters has been establishing a reputable career mostly with works released on Capri Records. Our Métier, his new album on that label, comprises eight originals specifically composed for an elite of top-notch soloists, cases of saxophonists Mark Turner and Oliver Lake, trumpeter Tim Hagans, and trombonist Dave Woodley. In fact, their stylistic range brings additional grandeur to Masters’ compositions, starting with the first track, “Borne Toward The Stars”, a vibrant swinger inspired by the conclusion of Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano. It's cautiously introduced with atmospheric suspensions and furtive glances, exploding when Lake blows the alto with the atonal fervency that characterizes his playing. The coalition of Putter Smith’s swinging bass and Andrew Cyrille’s straight rhythm serves as the sole backdrop until horn riffs are added. Lake is followed by another meticulous sculptor: Hagans, who upholds the enthusiasm, even when employing a more standardized articulation.

The same soloists are featured on the Shorter-esque title track, a richly orchestrated bluesy waltz that closes out the album, and in between they make use of their in-the-moment creativity, collaborating with other artists on two collective improvisations: “A Précis of Dialogue” and “In Our Time”.

With lots of humor, “51 West 51st Street” shines with that busy jazzy feel of Midtown New York, featuring vocalist Anna Mjoll and bass clarinetist Bob Carr in a gently funky first phase, and then turning the focus to the muted trombone of Dave Woodley and the trumpet of Tim Hagans, both telling individual yet congruent stories.

The Icelandic jazz singer sweetens “Lift”, a 12-bar blues, with an upfront improv just before Lake invades the space by sliding out of the conventional and bringing necessary tension. His sayings are supported by the glorious vibes of Craig Fundyga, who closes out the improvisations with a distinctive sound. Before him, the bass player had his word.

Ingvild’s Dance” is a sprightly medium-tempo waltz written for trombonist Art Baron’s wife. Tenorist Mark Turner excels, and not only here. Owning a formidable vocabulary enhanced by timbral faculties, he also takes “Luminescence”, a blues with a relaxed posture, to another level. He and Hagans challenge each other after the latter’s solo, sharing the sonic space with an enthusiastic conversational disposition.

Masters has the entire band having fun with his compositions and arrangements where the presence of jazz tradition is as important as it is the modern infiltration. The aesthetics of his music, built with passages that alternate between the adventurous and the predictable, have the soloists carrying much of the flame.

 Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Borne Toward The Stars ► 04 - Ingvild’s Dance ► 10 - Our Métier