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September 2007

Mark Masters
Wish Me Well
Capri Records

Based on the subtitle, “Reflections on Gary McFarland” (who died in 1971 at age 38), Masters’ idolatrous mission becomes clear. He was long ago attracted to McFarland’s 1969 album, Today. But as these liner notes suggest, it’s “an intimidating task to arrange an arranger’s compositions,” particularly when the ’69 album was scored for a front line of flute, cello, trombone and McFarland’s own vibes and vocals. However, Masters is too much his own arranger; he knows when to pay homage and when to assert his ingenious chops. Except for occasional transparency and minimalism, all 11 McFarland tracks reveal Masters’ DNA. He has unlimited colors at his disposal. The nucleus comprises trumpet, trombone, baritone sax, piano, bass and drums, plus an entire reed section named Gary Foster. For exotica, there are French horn, bassoon, tuba and bass clarinet. Masters uses them all deftly. Solo-wise, baritonist Gary Smulyan, trumpeter Tim Hagans and pianist Steve Kuhn steal the limelight. Trombonist Dave Woodley lovingly preserves McFarland’s love for Ellington with humorously swinging plunger work on “Chuggin’” and Smulyan coaxes his most plaintive tone for “Why Are You Blue?”

Originally published in September 2007
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