Masters & Baron Meet Blanton & Webster (Capri Records) has arranger Mark Masters and trombonist Art Baron completely transcending, revitalizing and reimagining the music of bassist Jimmie Blanton and saxophonist Ben Webster who toiled in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, changing the face of jazz itself in the process. That particular era of Ellingtonia—1940-1942—was one of the most fertile periods for Duke, who wrote and arranged specifically for his musicians, giving them ample room to shine. Baron played in that orchestra 30 years later, both for Duke and then his son Mercer who took over the band upon the 1974 death of his dad.
Between the four saxophones, three trumpets (Tim Hagans is a stand-out), three trombonists, bass and drums (no piano!), Masters has recomposed these classics to the point of near non-recognition…and that’s a good thing! He’s previously resurrected Gerry Mulligan and Charles Mingus. Now it’s Duke to undergo such startling and brilliant reworkings. Bravo!
Coming on the heels of Bill Evans Live At Ronnie Scott’s (with his short-lived trio of bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette), the release of Behind The Dikes: The 1969 Netherlands Recordings (Elemental Music) is cause for joy, for it is here, with bassist Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, and the Metropol Orkest, where the genius of Bill Evans [1929-1980] comes to the fore. Extrapolating the essence of material by Andre Previn, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Burt Bacharach, Dizzy Gillespie and Rodgers & Hart, this double-disc doozy adds his classical-music flourishes to the aforementioned composers, and his dreamy originals. The sound is pristine. Oh to have been in that audience!
The loft scene in 1970s New York City was a bustling powder keg of outrageous adventurism. These were cats making far-out music for themselves and for anybody who could open their ears enough for their brain to digest the eclectic syncopated surprise that emanated out of their horns. Alto saxophonist/composer/educator Alan Braufman, 70, was one of those free-thinkers. Apparently, The Fire Still Burns on his current self-released gem. The cast includes such like-minded pioneers as pianist Cooper-Moore, tenor sax man James Brandon Lewis, bassist Ken Filiano, drummer Andrew Drury and percussionist Michael Wimberly.
Braufman doubles on flute. His Boston beginnings may have started at Berklee in ’69 but by ’73, he was a New Yorker. By ’75, he had released the groundbreaking Valley Of Search. Fast-forward 40 years. He’s living in Utah. The album is re-released. Concerts ensue. As a result, with almost the same lineup, Braufman has written new pieces for the new project that still instill the same sense of wonder and wide-eyed curiosity that fueled the original Manhattan loft scene. Apparently, that fire never left him. Influenced and inspired by the likes of Don Cherry and Jackie MacLean, The Fire Still Burns is compact (36 minutes) with not a wasted note or even a second in-between tracks like a raging river. It’s lean, muscular, wild and free.
Mike Drop (Sunnyside Records), led by drummer Mike Clark and saxophonist/composer Michael Zilber, is a totally swinging post-bop trip with pianist Matt Clark and bassist Peter Barshay. It has them ferociously jazzing up The Beatles’ ‘68 “Blackbird” and ‘65 “Norwegian Wood,” as well as modernizing—dare I say improving upon?—McCoy Tyner’s ‘78 “Passion Dance,” Duke Pearson’s ‘65 “You Know I Care,” Wayne Shorter’s ‘67 “Miyako” and Thelonious Monk’s ‘62 “Monk’s Dream.” They even rescue that old 1938 “Falling In Love With Love” Rodgers and Hart chestnut from the dust-bin of time, polish it off and make it sound—no small feat—new and vital.