Mark Masters Ensemble – Farewell Walter Dewey Redman – Capri Records 74089-2, 70:39 ****1/2:
(Mark Masters – leader, arrangements; plus sixteen additional musicians)
This is one of several tribute sessions Mark Masters, conductor and president of the American Jazz Institute at the Claremont MeKenna College in Southern California, has lovingly recorded as part of the AJI’s effort to make the music of largely forgotten jazz giants more widely available. Previous discs have been dedicated to the music of Lee Konitz, Gary McFarland, Grachan Moncur, Billy Harper, Jimmy Knepper, and Clifford Brown. Honored artists who are still alive come to the college, give an oral history of their lives and music, play a free concert, and record as part of a group of jazz pros put together and lead by Mark Masters. For those who have passed, a special soloist is chosen to give a fresh perspective on the honoree.
Earlier tribute discs have been highly praised by the jazz community, and this one should be as well. Leader Masters has a knack for assembling some fine players, even if they’re not the most visible on the scene, and then giving them masterful arrangements over which the soloists freely blow. This approach often brings out the best in the solo performers, here, mainly Oliver Lake and Tim Hagans, the latter sounding as good as I’ve ever heard him as he spins out lines of cool fire. Lake, a free-bop alto saxophonist, was an interesting choice to pay tribute to Redman’s (mainly) tenor playing. One thing both share is a love of the blues. A player of great originality, Lake in his earlier days was known for his blistering attack and outside-in approach. He’s mellowed somewhat into his sixties, yet his characteristic angular lines and fiery demeanor are still abundantly in evidence.
The band is a marvel—nimble, deeply swinging, and thoroughly modern. As with the best large ensembles, they navigate tricky and challenging charts, time changes, and dynamics all the while sounding completely natural. Roars and whispers come and go at a moment’s notice, their voice almost organic, creaturely: they breathe as one. Surprisingly, the numbers making the strongest impression are the ballads, “My One and Only Love,” “Joie de Vivre,” and “Love Is,” a faux-cheerful waltz. A kind of forlorn poignancy shines through these, as if the world represented by the titles can never fully be realized. And Lake nails the mood with his searching, probing, sadly dancing lines. This is grand and glorious music, brilliantly conceived and passionately played.
My One and Only Love
Joie de Vivre
Adieu Mon Redman
– Jan P. Dennis