From Jazz Times 9/7/2012 by Bruce Pulver

Gordon Vernick’s latest release “Destination" is also about the journey. Hang on for a ride worth taking!

Quickly, jump on board. With his latest release titled "Destination", Dr. Gordon Vernick, trumpeter, composer, arranger, education and jazz historian has delivered another stellar recording. One thing for certain with a Vernick project is that many musical chances are taken with writing, arranging and ensemble interaction. At all times, soloists are encouraged to stretch for those hard to reach places and to even jump off the ledge is so inclined. Yet, in some soothing way, through the freedom given the artists, the entire project has a feeling of comfort. The listener knows all is well and all landings will be safe and injury free. After all, these accomplished jazz artists are chance takers with the ability like a cat to land feet first.

Why and how does Vernick achieve high marks for these kinds of musical gymnastics? Is it the clean and expressive writing, his leadership steeped in jazz knowledge and tradition, or the roster of artists he carefully selects to travel to this Destination? ‘Tis likely a bit of each with the right mix of all three. His first release since 2009, Dr. Vernick’s “Destination" again features his choice of Atlanta’s finest musicians.

Saxophonist, doubling on Flute and Bass Clarinet, Sam Skelton plays with ease and control which instantly responds to the calling of the tune. Full on when called for and subtle when whispers are required. Also a jazz educator, Mr. Skelton is a dual giver at the highest levels, on stage and in the classroom/rehearsal auditorium.

Pianist and producer, Kevin Bales is such a joy to hear. His accompaniment supports and inspires both the ensemble and soloists raising both to their highest potential. When his turn to make a solo statement, Mr. Bales develops his ideas in complete sentences, articulate without a wasted note. His improvisational stories are complete.

Marlon Patton and Justin Varnes share the drumming duties. Two contrasting styles, expertly selected by Vernick to compliment the compositions. Both swing with great feel. Patton’s play produces a feeling of waves which wash throughout the composition effortlessly. Varnes’ style has more definition and openness which leaves the soloists with open space to explore but are always supported.

Craig Shaw is an ever-present bassist on the Atlanta scene. With a reputation as rock solid, his ears are the guide on this recording. Always focused on the ensemble, Mr. Shaw is the classic role player. A dedicated student of his craft, Shaw is continuously absorbing and adapting to his musical surroundings.

The musical selections? Mixed between standards and Dr. Vernick’s original compositions, respect is paid to the past while offerings are made to the present.

"Freudian Slip" gets things going with a very “cool jazz" tune. Built with an attention grabbing melody, the composition quickly opens the door to soloing. Vernick as always plays with a confidence that is fearless to play give and take with the ensemble. Hand it over to Mr. Skelton’s Tenor Sax for an introductory statement then just cook behind Bales, Shaw and Patton. Each chorus builds slightly in tension and intensity. Reins then past to the capable hands of Mr. Bales, who respectfully says “I’ll see your work and raise the ante" on the keys. Shaw and Patton work with sponge-like ears to be where they think they should be. Nice decisions fellas!

"Giggle Me This" floats like a feather tied to a balloon only lighter. Waltzes are quite difficult to swing because of how quickly the downbeat returns, (1-2-3, 1-2-3). Vernick and crew easily tip toe over the form with never the sign of missing a step. Enjoy how the Flute and Trumpet complement each other in melody and in solos, while rhythm section glides with ease underneath. Wrap it up by giving Mr. Shaw some space and hear the piano and bass melt away just enough to lift up the bass work. Listening at its best.

So, why does the jazz standard "Sweet and Lovely" sound different? Couple of suggestions, Justin Varnes gets behind the drums to provide his artistry. Oh yes, then there is no piano to provide the chord form. Mr. Shaw and Dr. Vernick are left to their own devices (hands and ears) to roam with their single melodic and harmonic lines and do so nicely. Mr. Varnes keeps things chugging along with just the right feel. A unique and appealing arrangement.

Miles Davis and Gil Evans recorded the Miles Ahead album in 1957. Dr. Vernick breaks down "Miles Ahead" into its essence. . In its own way, the ensemble pays respect with a Davis-like rendering. Sometimes it is nice to hear artists be true to the original out of respect for a master. Well done.

The next Vernick composition "Almost There" is part ballad yet lightly pulsed to keep moving in a forward direction. The unique component here is inclusion Mr. Skelton playing the non-typical bass clarinet supplementing trumpet and traditional rhythm section. This composition emphasizes that the journey is equally as enjoyable as the final destination.

The Sonny Clark jazz standard "Junka" comes next. With its almost circular melodic line, this selection keeps with the destination theme. This tune just plane SWINGS. Dr. Vernick’s style was made for this composition. Skelton takes his turn with the form and keeps the swing on while demonstrating his “go where I want to" command of his horn. Yielding to Kevin Bales, it is clear they are all just having fun. Exclamation point when they trade eight measure phrases around the ensemble with Mr. Varnes. "Junka" must be the Jazz word for fun and games. More please!

Closing things out is the title and original composition "Destination". With its lazy, laid back, flowing melody, brush and mallet work by Mr. Patton and use of bass clarinet again, what a pleasing way to arrive at the end of the journey.

Wonderful writing, highly evolved ensemble interaction, and clearly exceptional soloing make this recording an enjoyable journey and “Destination."

Artists: Dr. Gordon Vernick, Trumpet, Sam Skelton, Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Kevin Bales, Piano, Marlon Patton, Drums, Justin Varnes, Drums

Tracks: Freudian Slip, Giggle Me This, Sweet and Lovely, Miles Ahead, Almost There, Junka, Destination

Artist Website:
Label: Jbird Music

From Scott Yanow, Jazz Critic and Author--March 2012

Gordon had previously recorded The Strangest Thing in 2008, an eclectic set filled with different types of music. For the more tightly focused Destination, Gordon is teamed with particularly strong and creative musicians: Sam Skelton, a former student who is equally skilled on tenor, flute and bass clarinet, pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Craig Shaw, and either Marlon Patton or Justin Varnes on drums. While based in hard bop, the music is forward-looking, filled with subtle surprises, and a perfect setting for Gordon’s trumpet playing.

Of his originals “Freudian Slip" is a driving and modern straightahead piece with an attractive blend between trumpet and tenor. “Giggle Me This" is a modern jazz waltz with Skelton on flute while the haunting ballad “Almost There" has a bass clarinet-trumpet frontline. Gordon’s personal favorite of these pieces is his post bop exploration “Destination." There are also fresh versions of three standards including rare revivals of the beautiful “Miles Ahead" and Sonny Clark’s swinging “Junka." “Sweet And Lovely" is one of Gordon’s best showcases, displaying his fluency and creativity in a trio with bass and drums.