Index of SEMJA reviews

Recent Recordings by Area Musicians


BOPO Records started out as a vehicle for the Bird of Paradise Orchestra, hence the acronym, but is quickly becoming the major local jazz label. Until now all the BOPO releases have been by the big band and its members, but now the label has added the popular Paul Vornhagen to its roster. On Swing as You Are (BOPO 81601), Vornhagen, who sings, plays the tenor, soprano, alto, and baritone saxes, as well as the flute, is joined by some of the finest area musicians: Paul Finkbeiner (trumpet and flugelhorn), Paul Keller (bass), Gary Schunk (piano, organ), and Randy Marsh (drums).  Trumpet-player Jimmy Cook, who has been on the reed-man's two recent recordings, makes a cameo appearance on Bud Powell's "Crazyology." 

The songs are classy: a couple of Keller-Vornhagen originals, including the title song, jazz classics by Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Wayne Shorter, and Horace Silver, as well as choice standards. The many horns of the leader assure a broad spectrum of sounds: the melody of the first track is played by tenor and trumpet, the second by the leader overdubbing flute and baritone, while the third features trumpet, tenor and organ, and so it goes.  The leader's main horn is the tenor, and he plays it with authority and a nice warm sound. The other instruments add variety, but while the accent is definitely on the tenor, one should not overlook the impressive features for alto ("Speak Low") and flute ("Sometime Ago"). Vornhagen continues to improve on all his horns, but his alto playing, already impressive on his last album, is making great progress. All of the features that are so characteristic of his musicianship are on view here: his rich sense of tone, his love of melody, and his relaxed but assertive swing. The whole affair is made all the better by his cohorts, who add immensely to the success of this album.  Paul Finkbeiner simply shines; his trumpet and flugelhorn solos are clear, logical, and full of life. It is time that he made a recording of his own. Schunk plays exciting piano solos and adds some nice touches on the organ while Keller and Marsh provide spirited support.

To my ears the last Vornhagen release was his best, and now this one tops it by a hair. But those vocals....

Bassist Tom Knific, a professor of jazz at Western Michigan University, has just released a compact disc with a number of friends and colleagues from Kalamazoo and beyond, and it is a winner. On Home Bass (Jazzheads JH-9509 ) he is joined, in various combinations, by guitarist Gene Bertoncini, pianist Andy Laverne, tenor saxophonist Trent Kynaston, drummer Billy Hart, and fellow bassist Peter Dominguez. This impressive lineup is distributed into duets and trios, with the leader's bass as the constant.

The intimate duets with piano and guitar are a perfect showcase for the lyrical side of Knific's prodigious contrabass abilities. On trios with Hart and Kynaston he shows a grittier, more swinging side. His regular friend and associate Kynaston is particularly impressive on "Indian Orange," where he demonstrates his effortless, driving swing and keen harmonic sense. The closer "Tea for Two" is a fun feature for two basses and Hart's loping drumming.

All in all, this is a very appealing release, with a nice variety of moods and tempos played by a topnotch group of musicians.