Vaughn Nark & The Airmen of Note: Flying High
Vaughn Nark is a trumpet showman along the lines of Maynard Ferguson or Jon Faddis. He’s featured here with an Air Force big band called The Airmen of Note. Nark’s penchant for high-note theatrics is immediately apparent on the opener, a fast latin arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s "Lorraine." His control and accuracy is no less dazzling on fluegelhorn, as is demonstrated on the Freddie Hubbard ballad "Brigitte."
Nark is flashy alright, but can he swing? On Harold Danko’s "Tidal Breeze," a medium swing tempo, he’s adept but a little too perfect. The rhythm section plays ahead of the beat, which doesn’t help matters. To hear Nark at his most tasteful, jump ahead to "Con Alma." And don’t miss the strings-and-woodwinds break toward the end, a nice touch by arranger Mike Crotty.
As for the remainder, on the plus side there’s "Red Clay," featuring vocals by Bobbie McCleary; "White Christmas" done up latin-style; a mellow bossa treatment of "It Could Happen to You"; a good if unsurprising "Cherokee," and the Mike Crotty original "Night Clouds." On the minus side there’s the other Crotty original, "Centri-Fusion," with its Earth, Wind & Fire/Tower of Power funk clichés; and a banal, R&B-flavored "My Funny Valentine" with vocals by none other than Vaughn Nark himself.
The Airmen of Note are fine players — alto, tenor, and piano soloists take a bow, although it’s hard to identify you from the personnel list on the disc sleeve. Much of the arranging is also excellent. But aesthetically speaking, there’s an aroma of Vegas, or the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, permeating the album. I wouldn’t exactly call this the shape of jazz to come. As for Nark’s trumpet, it’s a thing to behold, but be warned: it’ll either thrill and delight you or give you a headache.
Style: Big Band