Roger Mas 5et: Mason (2007)
Pianist Roger Mas presents a conundrum with Mason. Here is an album expertly executed, well-recorded, and filled with technical detail, but possessing a stark patina that takes time to rub away in order to reveal the core of the music. While there are glimmering moments of improvisational fire, the overall feel is rather mysterious. Perhaps Mas' goal was to create an updated Paul Desmond-esque musical environment, and in some important ways he succeeds. To his credit, the album has a genuine warmth and sports strong post-bop inspired melodies throughout. The music is tightly arranged and often features intricate unison playing from the entire front line. However, the unison device becomes tiresome from a compositional point of view, and ultimately offers a rather limited palette from which the group can work.
Ironically, Mas interrupts the amber glow of his Fender Rhodes tone with pronounced off-key vocalisms that draw far too much attention, and could serve as a caveat to sensitive ears. Thus, the conundrum continues and the music becomes more provocative due to this and other details. There is a serpentine quality to Mas' melodic and harmonic sensibilities that, in time, reveal subtle, secret sound worlds that are captivating and surreal. It's like experiencing a strange strain of lounge music where things are familiar, but off-kilter and askew in an unnameable, albeit undeniable fashion.
Although the song forms are fairly conventional, the group brings life to the structures through delicate tonal shadings in the unison sections. Juanma Nieto's drum work is outstanding as he propels the band forward, while simultaneously adding constantly-changing colors with deft cymbal work.
John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" is the opening track, and is a pleasant rendition, but the reading ultimately offers nothing revelatory. Indeed, the weakest selections on the album are the three cover tunes. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "God & the Devil in the Land of the Sun" lacks the emotional complexity and pathos of the original, and again comes across simply as a pleasant foray into the land of the sun sans the dark undertones of the devil. The meat of this ensemble's work is in the original tunes.
All in all, the music stands up well to repeated listening, gradually revealing its secrets over time.
Track Listing: Moment's Notice; Dana; Ionic; Mason; God & the Devil in the Land of the Sun; In Love In Vain; Wizard; Millennium Park.
Personnel: Jon Robles: tenor and soprano saxophones; Jaume Llombart: guitar; Roger Mas: Fender Rhodes and piano; Bori Albero: bass; Juanma Nieto: drums; Enrique Oliver: tenor saxophone.