Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Week of Picks (Friday)

In 2008, Nick Vayenas released his debut CD, "Synesthesia", on drummer Kendrick Scott's World Culture Music label.  The music was a blend of electronics, Vaayenas's excellent trombone playing, and his fsmart interactions with pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Brewer and Scott (among others.)

In the time since his debut, he's become a member of Michael Buble's touring band (he has also worked with Josh Groban) and it's noticeable on his second and self-titled CD, released on the British Whirlwind Recordings label. Produced by saxophonist Patrick Cornelius (who also played on the debut - he shows up here as well), Vayenas opens the program with "Prologue";  built atop Scott's martial drumbeat, Vayenas leads the way on trumpet and creates a brass choir beneath him (Cornelius adds saxophones to fill out the sound.  That leads the way to "All or Nothing at All", a piece that was a big hit for Frank Sinatra in 1939.  Not only does Vayenas contribute a hearty trumpet solo, he sings in a light, airy tenor.  Scott whips up a frenzy beneath the solo while bassist Vincente Archer flies up and down the strings.  Pianist Dan Kauffman is a fine accompanist as well as strong soloist.  Lionel Loueke joins the band on several tracks including the sweet version of "You Don't Know What Love Is" - here, his softly clicking guitar lines dance behind the vocal and support the blues-drenched trombone solo. The band brings the funk on "M.O.", Fred Wesley-type funk, with a wicked melody line and fiery solos.  Chances are good you've not heard Loueke get in the "good groove" like this followed by short but hot solos and then a trading section featuring Vayenas (trumpet) and Cornelius (soprano).

There's a fascinating take on "Stardust", led in by Loueke's acoustic guitar and Scott's conversational drums - when the rest of the group enters, the piece goes into a lilting samba rhythm. Yet the vocal seems a bit forced.  Vayenas is more of a crooner than a full-out singer and his delivery as well as his range is better suited for the slower pieces  For example, with only Kauffman's exquisite piano as accompaniment, Vayenas does a lovely reading of Kurt Weill's "My Ship." One can hear a touch of Chet Baker in the soft, sweet, vocal lines.

Nick Vayenas's second CD is a transitional work. He seems to be moving away from more experimental sounds and rhythms to a place where he can show the variety in his repertoire.  His brass work and arrangements are stellar, this fine band is right in step with him (friends as well as colleagues) and he's beginning to discover the power of connecting with an audience through not only the strength of his playing but also with the words he sings.   For more information, go to either or

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