Corner of the Morning – Vorcza
Coming as they do off the Burlington, Vermont banks of Lake Champlain, one would expect Vorcza to speak in bitter winds and evergreen whispers. Instead, the trio, consisting of former members of Vermont products Jazz Mandolin Project and Viperhouse, stays inside, moving between two rooms, one a bright contemporary studio and the other a dark, smoky back lounge. The door between them swings on the hinges of Raymond Paczkowski, most recently known as the keyboardist for Dave Matthews & Friends and fellow Green Stater Trey Anastasio. Corner of the Morning sounds much like its most identifiable member looks: the scraggly beard and engineer’s cap suggest the warmth and honesty that attempt to tie this eclectic collection together.
The first room finds the band huddled around the electric warmth of a studio console, shaping the rough edges of Paczkowski’s vocals, which, though not exactly virtuoso, are at least warm and honest. The opener, “Crazy,” wanders somewhere around the socially conscious 80s pop of Sting or Don Henley, but manages to skirt the synthetic polish of the era. Paczkowski struggles, but he struggles passionately, his voice carrying years and miles beyond himself. “Shine” is slow, funky soul firelit by a percussive Clavinet riff, though the lyrics suggest a more metaphysical bent. A blue sky piano intro pokes its head out the window on “Corners” before the rainy day jazz and lazy vocals of “Faith” chase it back into the warmth.
Meanwhile, on the other side, the trio blows smoky jazz around the wood and red velvet lounge. Most of the instrumental tracks center around Paczkowski’s keys, but bassist Rob Morse and drummer Gabe Jarrett keep a loose grip on the rhythmic center. On “Standard Stick,” Morse and Jarrett help guide Paczkowski’s wandering fingers over the narrow bridges. Sun Ra’s “A Call for All Demons” whispers bluesy jazz from the dark shadows in the back of the alley, but like the heavier rock beat of “The Shuffle,” the tune runs out of breath right when things get interesting. The band’s best jazz hangs out on the back side: the three contrasting riffs of “F/T” come together in a synchronized freakout as Paczkowski and Morse take turns trading oddities, and “Hell and Creation” is the collection’s best jazz, even if Paczkowski’s catchy little lick does come too little too late.
Unfortunately, the album’s best comes much the same way. Vorcza’s dual personalities are disorienting, especially with the wide stylistic breach between them: they play last gasp baby boomer pop rock one minute, then the next, they’re jamming on Hammond organ and Medeski jazz. Both are commendable, if not spectacular, but combined, they do more to hurt each other than to help. There’s little to dislike on this record, but closer listens don’t reveal much below the surface, either. In the end, Corner of the Morning may have been better off choosing a corner of one room, rather than sitting in the doorway between two.