Previous recordings put Vornhagen either in new age or distinctly straight-ahead jazz settings, and they've been highly representative of his music at those times, as is this effort. But now he's thrown all his cards down on the table and called everyone's bluff -- and he's holding a straight jazz flush. This is his finest hour on CD, a great mix of standards, three vocal classics typically reminiscent of Chet Baker, and the sweet but muscular tenor sax sound that Vornhagen has now massaged to near perfection. With support from Michigan masters like pianist Gary Schunk, bassist Paul Keller and drummer Randy Marsh, Vornhagen really hits his stride. Help mostly from the quite competent trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner, and Jimmy Cook on one track, gives the leader an edge on most other tenor-trumpet tandems -- their compatibility is undeniable. The middle of the program features the boppin' "Crazeology," with Cook brimming and bubbling over, the very cool Wayne Shorter piece "El Toro," and the Weldon Irvine funk dumpling "Mr. Clean," featuring the leader on a rambling soprano sax and Schunk on organ; all set a vibrant tone for their diverse approach within modern jazz. Vornhagen plays a smooth tenor, influenced by the bop greats of the past -- Griffin, Gordon, Rollins, etc. He can also rip it up on baritone and alto as well. His outstanding flute work on Dexter Gordon's "Soy Califa" is done in a different key than the original. The best cut, a Vornhagen/Keller original "Mulligan Man" has Vornhagen on tenor, not bari, as you might expect. It's a hard-swinging midtempo number that speaks to the '50s heyday as if it were happening right now. On alto for the bossa-informed "Speak Low," we find Vornhagen a bit more forceful and exuberant, slightly atypical of this cool school grad. An easy "Silver's Serenade," with Schunk back on the organ, caps this near-74-minute program of pure jazz delight. The hard work, long hours, endless gigs and touring have paid off for Ann Arbor's Paul Vornhagen, resulting in this solid representation of his talents. He's capable of so much, it's hard to envision where the future will lead; likely it will be as enjoyable, professional, and swinging as this excellent set of mainstream jazz, played for the people from the heart.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos