For me, Chris Vadala stepped "out of the shadows" the first time I heard him perform as a guest artist at an IAJE conference. "Who is this guy," I thought to myself, "and where has he been hiding?" I later learned that he had logged serious time with the Chuck Mangione Quintet, appeared on more than a hundred albums as well as film and television soundtracks, and was director of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Maryland in College Park.
What impressed me most, however, wasn't Vadala's solid resumé but his remarkable command of the horn, not to mention his free-flowing stream of credible ideas, which served him well in any context from ballad to barn-burner. All of that is on display in Out of the Shadows, recorded almost seven years ago but only now emerging fully into the light of day, along with his extraordinary versatilityat one time or another, sometimes with the aid of overdubbing, Vadala plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute, alto flute, clarinet and bass clarinet. When it come to the reed family, there ain't much left. I presume he could play piccolo, bass sax, oboe or bassoon, and play them well, if he were asked to. If I respond most warmly to his soprano (Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," Wayne Shorter's "Footprints"), that's simply a matter of personal taste, as nothing Vadala plays is less than admirable.
Of course, even someone as resourceful as Vadala can't do everything himself, and he is blessed to have a rhythm section that excels in camouflaging any crevasses. Pianist/organist Mark Cook, Vadala's professorial counterpart at Washington's Catholic University, is first-rate, as are bassist Pepe Gonzalez and drummer Mark Fidyk. For the record, Vadala's main ax is alto on John Nyerges' "Sambelissa," Cannonball Adderley's "Sticks" and Quincy Jones' "Quintessence," tenor on "Out of the Shadows" and "Club Contrafact," soprano on "Sentimental Mood" and "Footprints," flute on Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower," alto flute on Cook's "Waltz for Chris' Kids," clarinet on "Shadows Coda." He arranged everything except "Sunflower" (Cook) and "Quintessence" (Rob McConnell). The overall sound is fairly decent, save for "Club Contrafact," on which the engineer gets carried away with the reverb, turning the recording studio into a small-scale echo chamber.
While it's true that Chris Vadala has been a rather shadowy figure, that's not entirely by choice. Perhaps this album will help shine some well-deserved light on his prodigious talents.
Out of the Shadows; Club Contrafact; Waltz for Chris
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