With his Capri release Our Métíer (September 21, 2018), Mark Masters applies his prodigious talent for painting brilliant, complex, and satisfying jazz landscapes. The eight Masters compositions featured on the album showcase some of the most adventurous creative improvising musicians in jazz today: Andrew Cyrille, Mark Turner, Oliver Lake, Tim Hagans, Gary Foster, Dave Woodley and Putter Smith. In addition, Masters incorporates the unique voice of Anna Mjoll as an orchestral color, mixing with the instrumental waves in wordless swirls of sound.
The ensemble that supports these improvisers includes Scott Englebright and Les Lovitt (trumpet), Stephanie O'Keefe (French horn), Les Benedict and Ryan Dragon (trombone), Jerry Pinter, Kirsten Edkins and Bob Carr (woodwinds), Ed Czach (piano), and Craig Fundyga (vibes). The group's big band sound is augmented by bass clarinet and vibes giving the project, at times, an ethereal personality.
In his ten previous projects for Capri Records, Masters has reimagined the music of Lee Konitz, Gary McFarland, Dewey Redman, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (Steely Dan), Grachan Moncur III and Clifford Brown.
With Our Métíer, Masters has produced a classic "free-bop" large ensemble statement. One key to the success of the recording is the combination of improvisers completely simpatico with the compositions. In fact, the music was conceived and written specifically for these soloists. The music itself is an artist's canvas filled with all the hues and textures that flow from Masters' creative core.
The opening track "Borne Towards the Stars," inspired by the conclusion of Malcolm Lowry's novel "Under the Volcano," shimmers with atmospheric gravity and features explosive solos by Lake and Hagans. In "51 West 51st Street," drummer Cyrille establishes the groove after an opening steeped in funk featuring Mjoll and Carr's bass clarinet. When Hagans and Foster boogaloo into the musical space you can close your eyes and imagine being in Toots Shor's legendary New York City bar. "Lift" is an understated blues featuring Mjoll's exquisite voice and solid solo work from Mjoll, Lake, Smith and Fundyga. The harmonically engaging "Ingvild's Dance" with Foster and Turner brings to mind the classic pairing of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. "A Précis of Dialogue" is the first of two collective improvisations demonstrating clear textures and sparkling musical interplay with Turner, Foster, Cyrille and Smith. Foster, Smith, Woodley, and Turner deliver emotionally charged solo statements on the heartbreakingly gorgeous ballad "Dispositions of the Heart." "Obituary" is Masters' tribute to friends and teachers no longer living. Far from a dirge, the composition is an up- tempo, celebratory romp that shows off the ensemble in top form. From the haunting opening and trombone clusters aided by Mjoll to the sophisticated tenor sax and trumpet solos that follow, "Luminescence" brings you the blues in an entirely different way. "In Our Time," the second of two collective improvisations is wildly exploratory, conversational and always compelling. The title track closes the recording with a powerful, quintessential "free-bop" statement.
Mark Masters (b. 1957) has earned wide acclaim as an inventive and prolific composer and arranger. All About Jazz calls him "one of the great jazz arrangers of the late 20th and 21st centuries." Born in 1957 in Gary, Indiana, Masters studied jazz at California State in LA. He organized his first ensemble in 1982 and has never looked back.
"A strikingly creative spirit," (Jim Santella, All About Jazz), Masters has led numerous recording sessions, almost all for Capri Records. Among them are Priestess (Capri, 1990) that Masters wrote to feature Billy Harper and Jimmy Knepper. A subsequent recording with Knepper, The Jimmy Knepper Songbook (Focus, 1993), featured arrangements by Masters of Knepper's compositions.
Masters' most recent recording Blue Skylight (Capri, 2017), features his innovative ensemble writing and unique approach to the music of Gerry Mulligan and Charles Mingus. Farewell Walter Dewey Redman (Capri, 2008) features Masters' "in and out" approach and re-casts Dewey Redman's music while retaining its substance. The project features Oliver Lake, Tim Hagans, Dave Carpenter, and Peter Erskine. Other recordings include Wish Me Well (Capri, 2005) with Steve Kuhn, Gary Smulyan, Gary Foster, and Tim Hagans, Exploration (Capri, 2004) with Grachan Moncur III's octet arranged by Masters, One Day With Lee (Capri, 2004) featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, and The Clifford Brown Project (Capri, 2003) featuring Jack Montrose, Gary Smulyan, Tim Hagans, Cecilia Coleman, and Joe La Barbera. In addition, in 2013 Capri released two recordings, Ellington Saxophone Encounters and Everything You Did: The Music of Walter Becker & Donald Fagen.
Masters' 2005 recording Porgy and BessŠRedefined! (Capri) is a more harmonically adventurous approach to Gershwin's classic folk opera than what has come before. John Kelman, writing for All About Jazz said "ŠMasters' score is the real star here. From the opening fanfare he introduces two contrasting elements that, to a large part, define the approach to the whole suite-vibrant swing and some surprisingly free passages. He clearly proves that it's possible to take a piece that has been approached from a variety of angles and still find a new way in."
Since 1998, Masters has been president of The American Jazz Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the enrichment and enhancement of the appreciation of jazz. Under Masters' direction, the AJI supports activities that educate and expose the public to jazz through live performance and an oral history project, as well as by supporting charitable endeavors that advance jazz music. One such endeavor is the AJI's Find Your Own Voice mentoring program that takes professional musicians to middle and upper school campuses to present clinics and master classes to student musicians.
Masters served as a guest lecturer at Claremont McKenna College (1999 - 2006) where he was involved with the History of Jazz class, overseeing an oral history project, and writing for and producing a series of concerts that brought such notable artists to the college as Billy Harper, Billy Hart, Bennie Maupin, Rufus Reid, Sam Rivers, Andrew Cyrille, Mark Turner, Gary Foster, Lee Konitz, Jack Montrose, John La Porta, Tim Hagans, Gary Smulyan, Ray Drummond, Steve Kuhn, Peter Erskine, Joe La Barbera, Ted Brown, Grachan Moncur III, Henry Grimes, and Dewey Redman.
Masters has been named a Rising Star Arranger in DownBeat Magazine's Annual Critics Poll multiple times.