Like many other noteworthy recordings, Warren Vaché’s recording with the Scottish Ensemble, Don’t Look Back, started with an entirely different objective and developed into a thing of beauty through gradual refinement. Originally, Vaché, at the request of Arbors Jazz, intended to complete the second half of an album that Ruby Braff recorded before he passed. Both men played cornets, had developed direct and distinctive sounds and possessed a song-writer’s affinity for melody, even during improvisation. After a performance in Glasgow with singer Carole Kidd and The Scottish Ensemble, a 12-member string group playing both classical and contemporary repertoires, the thought occurred to Vaché that including the Ensemble on the second half of the album would create an especially memorable environment for the cornet’s declarative richness of tone. Carrying the thought even further, Vaché and The Scottish Ensemble decided, with Arbors’ enthusiastic encouragement, to record an entire CD, so right and natural were the results of their initial joint performances.
Numerous other elements combined to make Don’t Look Back a special recording. For one thing, Vaché was fortunate to benefit from the contributions of his long-time collaborator and friend, guitarist James Chirillo, in the execution of the projects. At first a production supervisor, Chirillo soon found his responsibilities expanding into the roles of conductor, composer, arranger, orchestrator and performer. Chirillo’s influence on the album is most notable on three tracks: Chirillo’s own haunting and delicate composition, "Valse Prismatique," which, after being inspired by the painting "Primes Electriques", he wrote especially for Vaché’s album; "I Fall in Love Too Easily," on which Chirillo contributes a luminescent solo that reminds us of the ease with which he plays seemingly offhandedly exhilarating guitar; and "Molly on the Shore," a traditional Irish song that Chirillo re-orchestrated to fit Vaché’s style. "Molly on the Shore" is easily the most surprising and noteworthy track on the CD (though it’s not conventionally "jazz," which is an irrelevant criterion for the high quality of Vaché’s performance).
Another serendipitous element that increases the value of Don’t Look Back is that fact that it includes the first performance of Johnny Carisi's arrangement of "Spring" for Charlie Parker. Charillo discovered it at Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz Studies and eventually realized the importance of his find. Never included in Charlie Parker with Strings, "Spring" includes the addition of oboe and harp to complete the sonic textures that Carisi conceived.
Just as Bird’s ambition was to record with strings, so was Vaché’s--actually a career-long wish. And now that wish has been fulfilled in a way that he couldn’t have imagined even two years ago. Vaché’s enthusiasm for the project, and the aptness of his pure tone above the ensemble’s accompaniment, add another level of ineffable appeal. Not only does Vaché play with ever-present lyricism and warmth, but also his note choices and improvisational directions are delightfully unpredictable.
The singularity of Don’t Look Back attracted yet another element of importance: the recruitment of legendary 87-year-old arranger Bill Finegan, known for his work with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. In his first arrangements in ten years, due largely to the fact that no one asked him to arrange again, Finegan arranged three of the songs, including the Johnny Mandel title track. "Don't Look Back" is the only piece on which Vaché "sings," though his voice is mostly conversational, rather than melodic.
In addition to all of the ancillary elements of the album, there is Warren Vaché, who performs with consummate control, vibrancy and tonal clarity for which he can be immediately identified. Vaché crafts each of the interpretations with a conventional approach that deceives the listener in its unconventional intervals and adherence to unspoken lyricism. Though the arrangements do distinguish Don't Look Back, Warren Vaché's matured insight and his excitement by the long-desired circumstances elevate the album to a level of iridescent memorability.