Monday, February 24, 2020

'Primary Colors': A trumpet-keyboard duo recording that stretches into sonic experimentation

Sometimes cleaning out a basement yields more than junk or sentimental knickknacks. John Vanore, whose
career as trumpeter also rests on the little big band he directed called Abstract Truth, dug out some cassette tapes he made with keyboardist Ron Thomas in the mid-1980s.
John Vanore revived duo sessions

Digitizing  these sessions and making them public has yielded "Primary Colors", three-quarters of an hour's worth of stimulating dialogues between Thomas and Vanore. The live studio recording is subject to some overlays and occasional expansion of the natural resonance of the acoustic instruments; recording and mixing credit goes to Terry Hoffman.

At the forefront are Vanore's horns — the trumpet and its mellow-voiced cousin, the flugelhorn — with most of the keyboard variety enabled by synthesizer and studio legerdemain, like the cymbals that decorate the opening track, Thomas' "Final Dawn." The moody, restless accompaniment complements Vanore's lyrical tone, and the long-phrased ballad setting exhibits his comfortable control. Both horns get some simultaneous interplay in Lionel Richie's "Lady." The piano is loaded with extra resonance, and overall the treatment seems a trifle aimless for the sake of sound. Fortunately, the disc's sonic woolgathering is confined to "Lady."

The most extensive outreach works pretty well in Vanore's "Origins of Rude," a salute to Miles Davis' funky electronic period. The foreground is cluttered over a bass ostinato, and Thomas sports an electric harpsichord timbre. The highly charged mix eases up as it goes along, becoming less aggressive before subsiding into a fadeout.

I prefer the more mainstream side of these dialogues, though it must be conceded that adventures in studio experimentation rooted in jazz of 35 years ago lend this disc an inviting novelty.  Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" finds the duo conventional in delivering a straight-ahead performance, with the freshness contributed mainly via a "hopping" treatment of the familiar melody. Vanore's crisp articulation is notable, but he doesn't allow that to lead him toward overaccenting the line. He displays a good low register, and here and elsewhere seems quite comfortable all along the spectrum of both instruments, confining higher blasts to "Origins of Rude."

Vanore is imaginative in a rubato solo cadenza to launch another evergreen, "Secret Love" (Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster), alluding to the melody slyly before falling into tempo with Thomas's assistance and delivering the theme. After solos, the two come up with an attractive coda that amounts to the perfect exit line for "Primary Colors."

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