Out of the blue, I’ve developed a fascination with the flugelhorn. I’ve even gone online once of twice to shop for one. At my age I’ve thought about really trying to learn one more musical instrument–to date I’ve flirted with the violin, drums, saxophone, guitar, ukelele and clarinet but I never invested enough time to stick with any of them and become, well, adequately skilled. But there’s something about the flugelhorn that appeals to me, and John Vanore and his new album Primary Colors has only increased that desire to blow my own horn, so to speak.
Primary Colors is a collection of duos John Vanore recorded with keyboardist Ron Thomas back in 1984-1985. If that makes you think about all that bright, digitized jazz recorded back then, rest assured that this is a beautiful and natural recording. The music itself can sound a little more typical of the times–Thomas, in particular, might have been listening to a lot of ’80s fusion jazz and sometimes extracts an odd, dated idea or two, but for the most part this recording features John Vanore and his sensitive touch with both the trumpet and the flugelhorn.
Why am I so infatuated with flugelhorns at this point in time? Aside from some fabulous performances from horn players such as Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, not to mention the flugelhorn’s role in the music of such pop bands as Chicago and Neutral Milk Hotel (I’m not even going to mention Chuck Mangione), it’s all about the timbre of the instrument. The trumpet can sound forward and aggressive at times, with lots of bite, but the flugelhorn is mellower, more textured and even a little more vulnerable. John Vanore captures those qualities in spades. His flugelhorn speaks to you. It tells you stories, and it has an outstanding vocabulary. You discover that when you lean in a little.
Primary Colors was recorded during an interesting time in jazz history–as the liner notes state, it was a time of “flux.” We had recordings such as Miles’ Tutu suggesting that the past was gone and the future was going to be strange and we all were going to have to get used to it. John Vanore and Ron Thomas sit on the fence during Primary Colors, and they look both ways. This album, therefore, is a fascinating chronicle of that weird chapter in jazz, but most of all it’s a love letter to the flugelhorn, and how we all need more of that instrument in our lives.