CD REVIEW: Mason Brothers Quintet – Efflorescence

Mason Brothers Quintet – Efflorescence
(Archival Records 1584. Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Coca-Cola NYC. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The Mason brothers, trumpet-playing Brad and trombone-playing Elliot, originally from Norwich and now part of the New York scene, are a unique phenomenon. The sleeve-note writers for their two albums – both of whom know a thing or two about having talented siblings, Wynton Marsalis for the first album and Randy Brecker for this one – have used the opportunity to try to identify what it is about the Masons’ tight bond as musicians that makes them so special.

Wynton Marsalis, in the note for their first album Two Sides One Story, recorded in 2009 expressed it like this: “Graced with abundant talent as well as discipline and fortitude,… these brothers can play.”

For the new album Efflorescence, recorded five years later – almost to the day –  Randy Brecker writes from experience – and clearly from the heart: “The Mason brothers have an uncanny musical brotherly ‘sixth sense’ wherein they don’t have to talk about phrasing, nuances and overall conception…It’s just there. It’s in the genes.”

Elliot Mason himself has tried to unravel their secret in the EPK for the new album: “Our bond is so unique that we can’t really explain it. The power of both of us improvising together is stronger than the individual.”

For a clear demonstration of what they can do, with the ideas and the counterpoint flying effortlessly and naturally between them, the first two minutes of the final track Uleo, unaccompanied, with the rhythm section sitting out, are pure effervescent joy. The lyrical exposition of Brad’s tune The Fate of 1958, on which they move back and forth from solo to perfect unison to two parts is a moment of sheer beauty.

The album also shows them off separately as soloists. Elliot Mason plays what you might call “Trombone 2.0.” His ability to make surprising yet always strong harmonic statements, his way of making irregular phrase lengths hang together in a coherent constructed solo are jaw-dropping. We are used to pianists- Gwilym Simcock or Helen Sung for example – whose speed of idea-generation is matched by their technical facility and finger speed, but to hear an improviser who can do that on a trombone is almost unbelievable. Having listened to his solo from about 2:00 to 3:40 on The Fate of 1958, the only possible reaction is to ask “how did he do that?” Instrumentalists will want to transcribe it.

There are differences from the first album. In the EPK, Elliot Mason says: “in Efflorescence the writing is much more emotionally inspired. Our Grandmother passed away right before the recording.” Also, this is definitely and unashamedly a live recording, taken over two nights at Dizzy’s Coca Cola in September 2014. There is a welcome at the beginning from an MC who sounds as if he might be by Michael Mwenso. Solos are greeted with sensitive applause. There is even what sounds like a police siren 8:41 of The Fate of 1958,right in the middle of Johnathan Blake‘s drum feature. Was he going too fast?

On the first album there were a number of guests – vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Tim Miller. This is a quintet date, and the trio the brothers work with are all top-notch NewYork players. Johnathan Blake is Kenny Barron’s drummer, and shows authority and inventiveness in every stroke of the brush or stick. New Zealand-born Matt Penman has a superb way of settling a tune down with impeccable time and tuning, and pianist Dave Kikoski as soloist and accompanist (the only player apart from the two brothers themselves to appear on both albums), is ever-inventive as both soloist and accompanist. His way playing under the brothers’ solos is a fascinating contrast. When Brad is soloing, the trumpeter’s playing is so unselfish, he leaves Kikoski the room to complement and comment, there is dialogue. When Elliot’s soloing really gets going, it can become so complex as a thing in itself, it leaves Kikoski less room. So there are times when the pianist can perfectly reasonably choose to drop back – and join the rest of us in the role of a dumbstruck spectator.

This is a superb CD. It has been on my player for a week and still hasn’t revealed all its treasures.  A strong candidate for my list of albums of the year.

Categories: miscellaneous

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