Michael Mason

Signal

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Like fellow Chicago indie Delmark, Southport has been great about documenting the sort of talented Windy City improvisers who are usually neglected by larger labels. Michael Mason is a perfect example; the flutist, who started recording for Southport in 1993 and was still signed to the label 11 years later, would be a hard sell at most major labels (at least in the United States). He is neither a well-known veteran like trumpeter Freddie Hubbard or saxman Wayne Shorter nor an Armani-suit wearing Young Lion -- Mason is a lesser-known veteran, and while that would tend to scare major labels away, it hasn't prevented him from building a catalog at Southport. Recorded in 2002 and released in early 2004, Signal is Mason's fifth Southport release. Signal isn't as essential as Angels of Fire (which is arguably Mason's most inspired album), but it's a solid post-bop effort that underscores the flutist's talents as both a composer and a soloist. Unlike so many straight-ahead jazz artists, Mason doesn't inundate listeners with overdone Tin Pan Alley warhorses -- actually, Signal doesn't get into Tin Pan Alley repertoire at all. Mason interprets Shorter's "Mahjong," but most of the album is devoted to his own compositions -- and he brings a healthy amount of spirituality to thoughtful pieces like "Turbulence," "The Pulse of Life's Heart," and "Amend." The word "spiritual" describes much of the post-bop that was recorded in the '60s and '70s, and Mason's work is quite mindful of that era; compositionally, his work owes a lot to post-bop explorers like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane, and McCoy Tyner. Mason isn't innovative, but he's good at what he does -- and Signal is a respectable addition to the Chicagoan's Southport catalog.

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