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REVIEW: John Vanore & Abstract Truth "Contagious Words”

By Aaron Cohen, Downbeat
October 2011
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Philadelphia-based trumpeter John Vanore logged in time with Woody Herman, but in the years that followed, he has taken some turns that led him away from his own performing and composing. He’s worked as an arranger and producer for a couple of major labels, but recently re-immersed himself in leading a large ensemble; the new Contagious Words is his Abstract Truth’s third release.

Perhaps the disc’s title refers to the oblique and unhurried way Vanore’s compositions and arrangements sneak up as a slow burn (with repeated listening), yielding all kinds of surprises. Vanore wrote most of the pieces on the disc, aside from trumpeter Kevin Rodgers’ “Neopolis” and the ensemble’s slightly sweet/ somewhat off-kilter take on the standard “You Go To My Head” (which Rodgers arranged). On the opener, “Envy,” Vanore’s strong trumpet solo accentuates his pristine melodic sense, yet while the large ensemble’s response to his lines makes an immediate impact, guitarist Greg Kettinger’s pointed underpinning lines quietly make the sharpest, and most lingering, statement. With horn players outnumbering any other instruments in the group, a piece like “Substructure” overtly features heavy brass mid-tempo movements, but it’s Thomas’ funky acoustic bass lines that really power the band. Vanore’s dynamic shifts and Kettinger’s bluesy guitar solo cohere the different parts of “Dreams,” as the large band revisits the main themes in subtly distinctive ways throughout its 11 minutes. Other fun moments keep listeners off-guard throughout, such as saxophonist Bob Howell’s Albert Ayler blast that opens “Restless.”

Contagious Words: Envy; Substructure; You Go To My Head; Restless; Dreams; Neopolis; Recess; Felony. (53:39)
Personnel: John Vanore, Joe Cataldo, Sean Mcanally, Tony DeSantis, trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Mee, alto and soprano saxophones, flute; Bob Howell, tenor and soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Bill Pusey, trumpet, flugelhorn (1, 2, 4, 5); Kevin Rodgers, trumpet, flugelhorn (6, 7, 8); George Barnett, french horn; Fred Scott, Lary Toft, trombone; Greg Kettinger, guitar; Craig Thomas, acoustic, electric bass; Dan Monaghan, drums; Ron Thomas, piano (1, 4, 6, 7, 8); Heather Fortune, flute (1, 5); Jim Daniels, bass trombone (2, 5).

Ordering info: johnvanore.net