PERSONNEL: Elliot Mason (trombone/bass trumpet), Sofija Knezevic (voice) Tim Hagans (trumpet), Brad Mason (trumpet), Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Jonathan Blake (drums)
SET LIST: Before, Now and After (Mason/Knezevic), Caravan (Tizol/Ellington), Let Me Ask You Something (Mason/Knezevic), Passion Dance (Tyner), Resolution (Coltrane)
HIGHLIGHTS: The Mason brothers and Knezevic performed an unexpected unison transcription of McCoy Tyner’s opening solo lines from “Passion Dance.”
In the 21st century, more trombone players are demolishing the stylistic lines previously drawn between the gestural, slide-heavy style of the Swing era and the stepwise, trip hammer, harmonically adventurous style of the Be-and-Post-Bop era. There might be no better example than Elliot Mason. His time in the historicist JALC band has likely had a hand in imbuing his phrasing with wide, glissando’d expressions that reach as far back as Kid Ory, but he frames these gestures around the razor-precise, harmonically-acrobatic runs you’d find in contemporary heavyweights like Robin Eubanks and Marshall Gilkes..
The vocalistic side of his playing came through the most with his originals, aided with grace and clarity by vocalist and lyricist Sofija Knezevic. The set opener “Before, Now and After” unfolded almost like the overture to an opera, buoyed by Jonathan Blake’s soft mallets and flowing like the poetic, Midwestern post-modernisms of Maria Schneider’s vocal parts before eventually evolving into twisty, Jobim-esque chromaticisms. “Vulnerable” was a bossa that might have cribbed its style from Lee Morgan’s “Ceora” and “Let Me Ask You Something” moved affable, songbook-style melodies around shifting harmonies.
Most of the fire came during interpretations of classics. Mason’s solo on “Caravan” journeyed with terrifying speed and harmonic substitution. His bass trumpet playing was an expansive take on a rarely-played instrument; like most valved low brass players, his time-feel and contour had a lot in common with Bob Brookmeyer, but he added a bouncy effervescence in the upper register reminiscent of Clark Terry.
His guest trumpeters also had blazing things to say over his arrangements but in refreshingly different ways. Tim Hagans’ solo on “Resolution” was a masterclass in unpredictability, stopping both long and short of where one would expect every single line of his to go. Elliot’s brother Brad was similarly adventurous on “Passion Dance” but with more of an “inside” sensibility.
It was a cast of improvisers displaying finesse and ferocity. Mason wrangled the band and the repertoire and made it all his own.
— by Dan Lehner