For two decades, until his retirement in 1993, trumpeter Vaughn Nark was the mainspring of one of the world’s leading contemporary Jazz ensembles, the U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note. His many contributions as the band’s lead and Jazz trumpeter were so impressive that Nark was presented, by Presidential order, the Meritorious Service Medal in appreciation for his services. To hear why Nark deserved a medal, one has only to listen for a moment or so to Flying High,
an overview of his invariably breathtaking and often near–incredible trumpet work with the AON. For comparison’s sake, picture Maynard Ferguson in Air Force blue. While Nark recorded with his military bandmates on a number of occasions, this is the first time that selections from several of those recordings have been assembled in one convenient place, on a single compact disc. To say that Nark is in superior form would be to belabor the obvious, as there has never been a time when he wasn’t. He can make a trumpet sing, dance, jump through hoops or perform any other task he commands. He’s in good company too, as the Airmen are more than equal to any challenge. The supporting cast includes such luminaries as trumpeters Ken Smukal, Rich Haering, Bruce Gates, Rich Sigler and Jeff Holmes; trombonists Dave Steinmeyer, Rick Lillard and Dudley Hinote; saxophonists Joe Eckert, Pete BarenBregge, Don New, Andy Axelrad, Tim Eyermann and Saul Miller; pianist Mike Rubin, guitarist Rick Whitehead, bassist Tom Williams and drummer Claude Askew. There are two vocals, by Bobbie McCleary (“Red Clay”) and Nark himself (“My Funny Valentine”). The band’s proficiency is matched by the dazzling charts, eight of which were written by Mike Crotty, the AON’s chief arranger for 26 years whom Mark Channon describes in the liner notes as “a musical genius,” an appraisal that will elicit no complaint from me. Nark wastes no time reaching the stratosphere, literally Flying High
on Dizzy Gillespie’s fast–moving samba, “Lorraine.” Much as I admire — and am continually dumbfounded by — Nark’s astonishing high–note trumpet, I love his voluptuous flugel (“Brigitte,” “It Could Happen to You”) even more. But I must avow that no one aside from the indomitable MF himself has ever hit such notes as cleanly and consistently as Nark. He’s a remarkably inventive Jazz soloist too; listen, for example, to “Brigitte,” Harold Danko’s “Tidal Breeze” or Burke/Van Heusen’s “It Could Happen” and be convinced. The rest of the program is equally enchanting, from Crotty’s scorching arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to Dizzy’s “Con Alma” (with strings), Ray Noble’s fleet–footed Jazz standard “Cherokee” (with a skyscraping opening passage by Nark) and Crotty’s original compositions, “Night Clouds” and “Centri–Fusion.” There’s not much here that doesn’t lend itself to a “best of” scrapbook, but we can’t freely recommend the album to trumpet players, as it may cause them to consider swapping their horns for a career in banking or real estate.
Track listing: Lorraine; Tidal Breeze; Brigitte; Red Clay; White Christmas; Con Alma; Night Clouds; Centri–Fusion; It Could Happen to You; Cherokee; My Funny Valentine (64:24).