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April 2009

Mark Masters Ensemble
Farewell Walter Dewey Redman
Capri Records

This album was supposed to be a collaboration between Dewey Redman (as composer and tenor saxophone soloist) and Mark Masters (as arranger for a 15-piece ensemble). But it became a tribute album when Redman died on September 2, 2006, four weeks before this recording was made. The project went forward, with Oliver Lake on alto saxophone filling Redman’s vacant chair. The other featured soloist is trumpeter Tim Hagans.

Redman was, roughly speaking, an outcat, and therefore played mostly in small groups. Masters’ achievement is to capture Redman’s impulsive creative spirit in arrangements for big band. Tight, fierce Redman anthems like “I-Pimp” and “Thren” and “Dewey’s Tune” are projected onto a larger screen and given new weight and scale. But Masters knows that charts in praise of Redman must sound like they might go anywhere, moment to moment, then must set soloists free.

Oliver Lake’s alto saxophone cuts through the surrounding ensemble fabric like a serrated knife. His volatility and edginess and eccentric lyricism are his own, and are brilliantly appropriate to honor the Redman aesthetic. Lake testifies in whoops and wild runs on Redman’s blues “Boody,” and screeches sweetly on “Joie De Vivre.”

The best piece is the only standard, “My One and Only Love.” Lake sings it in rasps and piercing cries while the orchestra’s voice empathetically murmurs and sometimes rises up, as if in response to Lake’s naked feeling. Tim Hagans is also very strong, tonally less “out” than Lake but no less startling in his ideas.

It is safe to assume that Dewey Redman would have loved this record.

Originally published in April 2009
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