The self-titled album by Nick Vayenas (Whirlwind Recordings) is split between instrumentals and tracks with vocals. I’ll admit: when I first heard his voice, I thought “ehhh, I don’t want to hear this”. At least not yet. I wasn’t ready, but I did like the opening “Prologue”, as he plays his trumpet as if he is welcoming himself into new surroundings, a new city as if to say “hello, my name is Nick, I hope I can be welcomed here without fear”. It makes me wish this “Prologue” didn’t fade out at 3:18. So rather than play the vocal tracks at first, I wanted to check out the instrumentals. If you have the album, this would mean tracks 1, 4, 6, and 8.
“M.O.” is funky and soul, it has that jump that I like, something I think what you might hear if James Brown fired everyone from his band and he want out of his way to find hot musicians here and now. It’s loose, but it’s still on the one so when you hear Vayenas do his thing alongside guitarist Lionel Loueke, you know they’re serious. This is for the money, but it’s still fun.
“Manhattanville”, from the name alone, is a city song, and you hear what Vayenas is observing, everything from traffic to cars, women with seductive addresses to store owners telling you to “get off my lawn”, even though there isn’t a lawn for miles. When he duets with saxophonist Patrick Cornelius, it’s the union one can sometimes find when one is at one with people and the surroundings they’re within.
“Tea Time” is the album closer, and I started to imagine what it would sound like inside of a nigthclub, knowing that this is the last thing you’ll hear. Employees trying to clean up as much as possible, and the musicians trying to “clean up” with their playing, perhaps being able to impress someone enough to where it might lead to a grand tip (money, a drink, a vagina or two, etc.) Loueke gets ever-so-seductive by playing what sounds like a Spanish guitar, and with only a few minutes to spare, Vayenas and his group become one force and go in for the metaphorical kill. Quite nice.
While I was not immediately impressed by his singing, as I started to listen, I could hear his strengths and weaknesses, but the weaknesses go away when I wanted to hear him for what he can do. He sings in a high tone, but not in a soprano. Imagine someone like Sean Lennon getting jazzy. That’s Vayenas’ singing voice, and with it is manages to execute his songs with the kind of pull and lure that will make listeners want to hear more. He’s not trying to be ultra-skilled or sing with exaggeration, he simply loves to sing and wants to tell you what he’s about with his voice. A track like “Stardust” reminded me of Michael Franks, but a Franks if he hung out more with Harry Connick Jr. To me, Connick pulls it off from all angles because he sings as a singer and as a musician, and it is with this song that Vayenas does the same. “My Ship” is just him accompanied by Dan Kaufman on piano, that kind of song you’d hear at a smokey bar and the song being played gives you courage to speak to the person of interest on the way, but all that nicotine is harshinng your verbal mellow. You have a sip of wine or drink of choice and eventually you realize Vayenas got off of his chair and pushed you towards your person of interest. Thank him.
I may have been apprehensive about his vocals at first, but that came from unfamiliarity. Once I warmed up to it, I accepted it and liked it, and found him to be a singer/musician who does quite well. Feel free to split this album as two separate EP’s, or put all your chips in and fill up in full.