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When one is informed that a certain musician’s perspective “defies classification,” that his “orientation is holistic,” and that he advocates “diversity and balance,” producing “a mosaic of textural contrasts” that expresses “a broad overview of human emotion,“ it’s best to hunker down and prepare to withstand an everything-but-the-kitchen sink onslaught. In Vaughn Nark’s case that’s not really a bad idea, as the “v” in Vaughn could as well stand for “versatile.” Nark is rather like an American version of the “Wizard of Oz,” Australia’s virtuosic James Morrison, which is to say he’s a musical phenomenon who shines on trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone, baritone horn, percussion—and he even sings. The question is, what is the proper milieu in which to showcase all that energy and talent?
On Panorama, Nark has chosen to display his singular endowments in an eclectic mélange of jazz, funk, fusion and schmaltz that often places him in the uncomfortable position of outdistancing his musical purpose. While Nark is outstanding on any instrument (his singing is another matter), the charts—most of them, anyway—are limp, lackluster and sometimes weighted down with superfluous acoustic and electronic gimmickry. The exceptions are Marty Paich's hip arrangement of “Lullaby of Broadway” (George Shearing would no doubt be delighted, and the late Al Dubin and Harry Warren disappointed, to learn that Shearing had written it) and a kinetic version of Kenny Barron’s “Trinidad Goodbye” (with a smoking tenor solo courtesy of Peter Fraize).
The rest of the album is of interest mainly for Nark’s stratospheric salvos on trumpet (does his horn have a lower register?) and his splendid work on flugelhorn, valve trombone and baritone horn. On trumpet, he reminds me most of Maynard Ferguson; on valve trombone (which he plays too infrequently), of the late Stu Williamson. Nark sings on three numbers (“I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “Over the Rainbow,” “America”), bearing out Dr. Herb Wong’s opinion in the liner notes that his vocal talent is best described as “heartfelt.” Nark’s screaming trumpet introduces “All Blues,” “Over the Rainbow” and “America,” his mellow flugelhorn “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “Cavatina” (on which he is accompanied only by Rick Whitehead's classical guitar) and Carlos Santana’s “Europa.”
If you’d like to hear a master musician at work in a variety of settings, Panorama should be the ticket. But don’t expect to hear charts that dazzle or jazz that inspires; this is Vaughn Nark’s voyage from beginning to end, and aside from his unequivocal brilliance there’s not much else to endorse.
Track Listing: Work Song; Lullaby of Broadway; I
Personnel: Vaughn Nark, trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone, baritone horn, vocals, percussion; Tim Eyermann, alto sax (1, 8), flute, bass flute; Peter Fraize, tenor sax; Dave Stein Meyer (2), trombone; Pete BarenBregge (2), alto sax; Wade Beach, acoustic, electric piano; Rick Whitehead, acoustic, electric, classical guitar; Dave Marsh (1, 3, 7, 8), acoustic, electric bass; Tom Williams (1, 4, 9, 10), electric bass; Ronnie Shaw (1-3, 5, 7, 8, 10), Keith Killgo (4, 9), drums; Sam