MIKE JOYCE - The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 16, 1998 ; Page D02

When trumpeter Vaughn Nark stepped onstage at Blues Alley Monday night, he joked that some patrons near the stage might want to move to another table if they valued their hearing. Or maybe he wasn't joking. Surrounded by a fine cast of Washington-based musicians, Nark revealed the full range and power of his trumpet by punctuating nearly all of the arrangements with octave-leaping, earsplitting flourishes.

A veteran big-band lead trumpeter, Nark has extraordinary technique and clearly enjoys displaying it. Blistering bebop lines, crackling Afro-Cuban rhythms and the brash tonal colors associated with fusion jazz marked the opening set, with Nark often alluding to his primary influence, the late Dizzy Gillespie, as a source of material and inspiration.

Indeed, none of the tunes demonstrated the ensemble's impressive drive and resourcefulness more vividly than Gillespie's "Fiesta Mojo" and "Tanga." Both tunes blossomed into festive arrangements showcasing Nark's fulgent horn and the vibrant support of his band mates. Doubling on flute and saxophones, Tim Eyermann played Nark's nimble foil throughout the evening -- that is, when he wasn't busy forging a robust tenor sax tandem with Peter Fraize. The mostly familiar melodies were also freshened by keyboardist Fred Hughes, guitarist Rick Whitehead and bassist Tom Williams, while drummer Keith Killgo balanced a vigorous polyrhythmic attack with an unfussy swing pulse.

Although the band's sonic assault seemed out of sync with the contemplative allure of "My Funny Valentine," the balance of the performance, which included an appropriately subdued tribute to Chet Baker, colorfully illustrated the ensemble's considerable appeal.

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