Capri Records Ltd.

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

Ed Czach, piano; Putter Smith, bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Jerry Pinter, tenor & soprano saxophone; Don Shelton, alto saxophone/alto flute; Bob Summers, trumpet; Gary Smulyan, baritone saxophone; Dave Woodley, trombone.

Featuring some of the Los Angeles music communities A-list musicians, this CD is plush with harmony, swings hard and has tightly executed arrangements that send this ensemble soaring into the big band jazz universe. Alec Wilder is the composer of all the songs and The Mark Masters Ensemble amply interprets them with fire and finesse. All arrangements are written by Mark Masters. The musicians are such amazing technicians on their instruments that they sound like an orchestra. I am not surprised, because I’m familiar with the excellence of Ed Czach on piano, Putter Smith on bass, Kendall Kay on drums and folks like Bob Summers on trumpet. The entire ensemble is made up of first-class, Southern California musicians.

Alec Wilder is an iconic, amazing composer and you probably would recognize some of his popular American Songbook tunes; among them, “I’ll Be Around.” The Mark Masters Ensemble opens with “You’re Free,” a great tune that swings hard and is driven by the awesome baritone saxophone of Gary Smulyan. Masters’ collaboration with Smulyan has embraced twenty-one friendly years, starting with when he invited Smulyan to perform his music with strings at California’s Claremont McKenna College. Later, he was featured on the Mark Masters tribute to Clifford Brown Project in 2003. Clearly, Gary Smulyan’s beautiful, rich sound on his baritone saxophone immediately grabs the attention. His tone is smooth as satin, as he creatively improvises or boldly sings out the melody. Either way, he will intoxicate the listener.

“Writing this project with Gary in mind, I wanted to feature him as if he was performing with a symphony orchestra. The goal was to set him apart from everything else and to highlight his sound and his unique voice. I know that whenever he’s playing, it’s going to sound great. But I want to make sure that I do everything to put him and everybody else in the best light,” Mark Masters explained in his press package.

There is no doubt that this project shines brightly, spotlighting the dynamic Wilder compositions and brilliantly showcasing a crème-de-la-crème of some of our best Los Angeles musicians. Mr. Masters has long been heralded as one of the great, modern-day, jazz arrangers. He formed his first ensemble in 1982 and has recorded a variety of tributes to some iconic jazz men including Jimmy Knepper, Clifford Brown, Dewey Redman, Duke Ellington, and in 2013, the music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagan. He has also reimagined works by Gerry Mulligan and Charlie Mingus on his acclaimed “Blue Skylight” album. This will definitely become another plume in his arranger’s cap.