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Mark Masters Ensemble featuring Gary Smulyan "The Ellington Saxophone Encounters" (2012)

Reviewed August 2012 by Dustin Garlitz, Editor: JazzTalent.com


Masters and Smulyanís 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 menís 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.