It's easy to forget that in the beginning jazz was music designed for entertainment and not considered serious art. The Frank & Joe Show takes its inspiration from such a time, a bygone era when the audience preferred to jitterbug rather than to just sit and listen. Frank Vignola has already displayed a serious Django jones on his previous albums, yet wisely has avoided recording a CD full of gypsy music when the real thing is so ready available. He teams up with Joe Ascione, a percussionist who provides all sorts of color from tropical grooves to jump blues, to create the Frank and Joe Show. They have been quite successful on the live circuit, bringing their unique blend of styles to audiences across the country.
Their debut release, 33 1/3 , combines multiple styles in a tribute to the LP era and is one heck of an entertaining ride. Tunes like "Begin the Beguine" are taken at a brisk and joyful pace, and balance chops with wit and panache, whereas "It's Only A Paper Moon," normally taken at a brisk pace by Django, is slyly taken at a meandering tempo. To add to the fun, guest stars like Dr. John and Jane Monheit bring their own approach to a couple of standards. The only missteps occur on the second side. For a band so thoroughly devoted to approaching serious songs like "Besame Mucho" with a mischievous spirit, there's no way to tackle novelties like "Spiderman" without laying it on too thick, and "Flight of the Bumblebee" is an exercise in breathless dexterity that probably works well in front of an audience but seems needlessly flashy on record.
When it gets right down to it, 33 1/3 proves that the Frank & Joe Show is probably a great live act worth catching when it comes into town. However, like other great live acts, the studio recordings, without the interplay with the audience, fall a little short and seem over rehearsed. Also, Clearly Vignola and Ascione have the chops to really have a go at some of these songs into extended jams, but the LP format they've chosen limits the songs to a brief running time and robs us of that pleasure. Sill, though, 33 1/3 makes the case that the Frank & Joe Show is a band worth following.
Personnel: Frank Vignola - guitar; Joe Ascione - percussion; Sean Smith, Joel Forbes, Gary Mazzaroppi - bass; Steven Bernstein - trumpet; Charles Burnham - violin; Mac Rebennack - piano; Chuck Ferruggia - tambourine holder. Guest Vocalists: Dr. John on #5; Jane Monheit on #7; Janis Siegel on #2.