Mark Masters Ensemble
Ellington Saxophone Encounters
American Jazz Institute
An artist’s posthumous success depends more on the aggressiveness of the estate than the skill of The Artist Formerly Known As “Alive.” Duke Ellington’s estate is in the middle of that pack, but there’s been a stream of Ellington related releases recently. This particular one comes from the murky American Institute of Jazz, which seems to consist mostly of Mark Masters. He features guest artists like Gary Smulyan (sax) and Tom Warrington (bass), and recreates some of Ellington’s most famous sax numbers.
Like any self-respecting jazz disk, the recording is clean and acoustically flat (i.e., no pre-emphasis, no reverb, and God would strike the recording engineer dead if Autotune raised its Satanic head.) Vocals are absent, but you can imagine them if you want: “Peaches” streams a film noir inner monologue, “Rockin’ in Rhythm” presages poodle-skirted rock and roll, and “Esquire Swank” finds that weird path between “authentic” black music uptown and the classy joints downtown. Smulyan’s big ‘ole sax is the plow horse on all these cuts; it’s everywhere, driving the band along as the other brasses dance around it. The piano pops up for light solos, and the brushed drums hang out in back, smoking a joint and wearing skinny little shades. No point in wearing out the retina, this gig is all about sound.
Now that you’re old enough to appreciate the tunes your granddaddy grooved too, its time you shaved the goatee, traded the porkpie hat for a tux, and found out that being an adult can be every bit as hip as it looked in those old movies.