The Dana Masters Sextet combine their virtuosic talents on their 'sublime, exquisite' debut album
In October 2012, a band comprising five of Northern Ireland’s top jazz musicians – including the well-known trumpter, Linley Hamilton – and the extraordinary US vocalist Dana Masters began a residency at McHugh’s bar in Belfast on Saturday afternoons.
As the crowds packing into the basement bar increased week after week, demand for the Masters’ Sextet to play other venues grew. They were booked to play Bert’s Jazz Bar downstairs in The Merchant Hotel on Saturday nights, the Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival (which will be aired on BBC Radio Three in the coming months) and even Van Morrison asked them to support him at his Dunluce Castle gig.
Now the Dana Masters Sextet have cut their brilliant debut album, JAZZnBELFAST, featuring some of the most popular tracks from those memorable McHugh’s Bar sessions. All of the original members are featured, with the line-up completed by Meilana Gillard on tenor saxophone, Scott Flanigan on piano, Carl Harvey on bass and Steve Davis on drums.
Recorded during a six-hour session at recording studios in Balbriggan, County Dublin, the album begins with Masters’ sublime vocals on ‘Black Nile’, which is right up there with the seminal interpretation of jazz giant Gregory Porter.
The next track is an instrumental written by the talented tenor saxophonist Meilana Gillard, whose playing on the album is of the highest order. For those who love the warm, rich tenor playing of Dexter Gordon or Hank Mobley, this track will be a real treat.
This is a band that has become more and more polished over the months, and the playing of Linley Hamilton on trumpet, Scott Flanigan on keyboards, and the superb rhythm section of Steve Davis on drums and Carl Harvey on electric bass, is a testament to the depth of talent among Northern Irish jazz players in 2013.
Track three is a vocal version of the bebop standard ‘A Night in Tunisia’, made famous by Dizzy Gillespie – who co-wrote it with Frank Paparelli – and the incomparable Charlie Parker. The sextet give it their own polish and pizzazz, however, making it a personal highlight.
Next up is 'N11', a lively post-bop instrumental penned by Flanigan, on which Gillard’s solo playing is Coltranesque, followed by a beautiful version of ‘My Heart’s Desire’ with Masters’ voice full of yearning.
Charles Mingus’s bluesy ‘Nostalgia in Times Square’ is a nice change of tempo, with some lovely playing from Flanigan and Hamilton before Masters is called upon again to sing ‘At Last’, the song made famous by Etta James and, more recently, Beyonce on her live tours. The track begins with some nice, understated piano playing before Masters joins in with her emotion-filled, soul-drenched vocals. It's exquisite.
This impressively professional recording ends with saxophonist Joe Henderson’s Latin-tinged Blue Note classic, 'Recorda-Me'. The band played this during their first session together all those months ago, and it just keeps getting better. With an eye-catchingly abstract cover illustration and design by jazz fan Terry Corr and Philip McGuinness of Navigator Blue, JAZZnBELFAST is a must for all fans, not just of jazz but of great music in general.
JAZZnBELFAST is available to download now.