Recorded in one late night, four hour session in 1993, violinist George Mason’s Life Colors
is only now seeing the light of day. And that’s a good thing, because Mason is a solid player with one foot planted in the traditions of mainstream jazz, while the other is in a more contemporary form.
Mason’s recorded work has covered the country arena, including an appearance on an album by The Moffatts, and citing fiddler Kenny Baker, who developed a the "long-bow" style of violin playing that took some of the chop out of his traditional area of bluegrass; but he also demonstrates a solid knowledge of the jazz tradition. Like the late Polish violinist Zbigniew Seifert who came before him, Mason lists John Coltrane as a major influence and, while he doesn’t create the sheets of sound that so typified Coltrane’s latter period, he clearly owes a debt in the way he approaches harmony through the changes in his material; Mason is also a more overtly lyrical player.
The first two tracks clearly come from the mainstream; "Dancing on the Wall" is a lightly swinging waltz that is a strong vehicle for Mason’s lyrical playing. Pianist James "Myles" Mylenbush provides a strong backdrop for Mason and for saxophonist Bill Caldwell, who also played with Mason on Lorrie Taylor’s album, When You Wish
. "Little Brown Girl" is an uptempo samba, providing another opportunity for Mason to demonstrate his ability to construct meaningful solos. The joyous, upbeat approach of these tracks sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Aside from Mason’s infectious playing, the other surprise of the recording is bassist Mark Harris, a solid accompanist who can also drive a tune, as he does in the funky title track, which moves the album into a more contemporary vein. With a fat sound, he slaps and plucks the strings, and gives the tune a more modern edge. On the two non-original tracks, Miles Davis’ "All Blues" and Coltrane’s "Impressions", played as duets, Harris contributes some impressive two-handed tapping that allows him to create a broader rhythmic and harmonic anchor over which Mason can solo. These two tracks stand out as arguably the best tracks on the album.
Positive, upbeat and well-played, Life Colors
is a recording that shows the versatility of its leader, and also introduces Mark Harris as a bassist to watch; hopefully another ten years will not have to pass before Mason releases another recording.