Mark Masters on Alec Wilder

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One of my favorite jazz albums of the year is a recently released collaboration between arranger Mark Masters and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. The album is Night Talk: The Alec Wilder Songbook (Capri). If you’re unfamiliar with Masters, now’s a good time to explore. His arranging skills are imaginative and magnificent, and he has a long history of exceptional work. He also is president of the American Jazz Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the enrichment and enhancement of the appreciation of jazz. In other words, a good guy. [Photo above of Mark Masters]


Recorded in December 2018 at Tritone Recording in Glendale, Ca., Night Talk features a team of eight instrumental tigers: Gary Smulyan (bs and featured soloist throughout), Bob Summers (tp), Dave Woodley (tb), Don Shelton (as, alto flt), Jerry Pinter (ts, ss), Ed Czach (p), Putter Smith (b) and Kendall Kay (d). These are busy but emotional arrangements, yet the octet handles them with polish and punch.

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The Wilder songs are You’re Free, Don’t Deny, Ellen, Moon and Sand, Baggage Room Blues, I Like It Here, Night Talk, Lovers and Losers and I’ll Be Around. All arrangements are by Masters, who has an incredible touch and wonderful sense of coloration. Gary on baritone is nothing short of spectacular. His blowing is assertive and flawless and, best of all, relentless in the manner of Pepper Adams. It’s as if Gary is playing a chain saw at full throttle. [Photo above of Gary Smulyan]


Gary and Masters are a natural fit. They’ve worked together for years on albums, including Masters’s The Clifford Brown Project (2002), Porgy & Bess Redefined (2003), Grachan Moncur III’s Exploration (2004), Masters’s Wish Me Well: Reflections on Gary McFarland (2005), Gary Smulyan’s High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine (2008), Masters’s Ellington Saxophone Encounters (2012) and Masters’s Everything You Did (2013), a tribute to Steely Dan. I love all of these albums, but Masters’s latest one with Gary is perfect in every way. His arrangements are relentlessly captivating and have the flavor of past great arrangers. Gary’s playing has never been more exciting. As for the players, it’s astonishing that there are only eight. It sounds like a full big band. Richly rewarding, and an album you’ll play over and over in the same sitting.


JazzWax tracks:
You’ll find Night Talk: The Alec Wilder Songbook (Capri) here.

JazzWax clips: Here’s You’re Free

Here’s the title track…

And here’s Lovers and Losers...

Bonus: Here’s Steely Dan’s Black Cow from Mark Masters’s Everything You Did


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