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Mark Masters Ensemble: Porgy & Bess… Redefined!

George Gershwin is one composer whose output, particularly Porgy & Bess, lends itself to frequent reinvention. Mark Masters’ approach combines an enhancement of the Gil Evans/Miles Davis creation with a recoloring of Gershwin’s concept. Since Gershwin’s changes are definitive, Masters seldom has to reharmonize. Besides, soloists such as trombonist Dave Woodley, trumpeter Tim Hagans, tenorist Billy Harper and baritonist Gary Smulyan fashion such in-and-out statements that their solos often lend a feeling of bitonality.

The album begins with an overture, “Introduction,” with hints of themes to come. It ends with a Ray Drummond bass solo that walks smack into a wailing “Summertime” in the same key, which is sparked by clusters, double time, free passages and brilliant solos by Harper, Woodley and Hagans. “It Ain’t Necessarily So” also wails but at a leisurely pace, boasting a fine trombone plunger solo by Woodley. “Clara, Clara” and “Here Comes de Honey Man,” the latter in 7/4, are atmospheric gems. Smulyan’s allegiance to melody makes “I Loves You, Porgy” unforgettable. Masters’ chart on “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leaving,” propelled by drummer Joe La Barbera and the comping of pianist Cecilia Coleman, climaxes with a pyramid that ends on an exclamation point.

Originally Published