Bands that stay together for a while develop a style and a certain sound. When it goes good, it’s replete with a special rapport, with a sense of empathy and even a sense of humor. So get ready for the Frank & Joe Show, because it has all those things. As well as a veiled sense of adventure.
This show is going good.
The relatively new Frank & Joe Show is based out of New York City (they play Sunday nights at Sweet Rhythm in Manhattan when not traveling) and played its first gig outside the Big Apple on May 14 at The Egg in Albany, NY, a venue that has become a friend of jazz over the years. The tour, which is expanding, is in support of the group’s first CD, 33 1/3 , just released on Hyena Records.
The band is comprised of musicians who play jazz, but the CD, and the show, doesn’t stick to any one format. The recorded music is enjoyable and built to make people smile. The tune aren’t overly long, nor are any of the solos, and the music shifts from hot jazz to gypsy rhythms to country flavors to ballads to classical-inspired riffs and a lot of things in between.
Live, it’s even more. The music that co-leaders Frank Vignola and Joe Ascione bring to the stage carries their personalities, which is to say joy. It also brings some heavy musicianship, since Vignola is a virtuoso guitarist and Ascione a superb drummer/percussionist. The two are great friends. In fact, all six members are chums. (only five made it to The Egg, as percussionist Chuck Feruggia had to be left behind in Brooklyn with a case of chicken pox). Their élan is infectious. And the songs they choose are meant too make you move and sway and dig, not sink into yourself.
Within all that is Vignola’s crisp and articulate guitar picking, Ascione’s organic and exquisite rhythms, rock solid bass from Gary Mazzaroppi, sweet rhythm guitar from Ken Smith and more well-placed percussion fills by Rich Zukor. These guys can play. There may be no 12-minute solos, but check out the playing. It cooks.
The songs come from anywhere — Cole Porter is there, but so is Mozart. The chestnut “Stardust” can be heard along side “Flight of the Bumblebee.” The group isn’t afraid to take on any song they feel fits their recipe, which is a good melody that can be spiced up and delivered with high musicality (and improvisation) by the various individual qualities of the musicians and the personality of the band as a whole.
The show is new, but the concept — taking all manner of tunes and turning them into something different for the listener and unique to the band — is one the leaders have been working on for a long time. They hope the Frank & Joe show allows them to continue to develop the band and its repertoire for a long time to come.
“That’s what Joey and I have always done for years now is to try to find tunes and do something different with it, or just kind of develop our own thing, instead of just picking a tune and seeing what happens,” said Vignola before the show.
The group played mostly from the new CD, starting with a Latin-tinged version of “Begin the Beguine.” It pretty much set the tone, played with a spirit that permeated from start to finish, Vignola’s sharp guitar work in conversation with Ascione’s hand drums. (He doesn’t play s standard drum set in this aggregation). Vignola’s hands were a blur for “Tico, Tico” but the solo wasn’t over done. There are no extreme flights of improvisational fancy. The adventure of the group is more subtle, but it is not lacking. The music is tightly arranged, but the group has room to play around.
“Alone Again Naturally” is taken at a ballad pace and Vignola showed his melodic side, delicate and mellow. “City Samba” was an example of the group’s musicianship (something lacking in so many pop groups these days).The guitarist showed some Wes Montgomery, bluesy licks, while the drummer’s soft and quick hands propelled the beat on the djembe drum.
“Spiderman,” the theme from the animated cartoon show, is a fast, boppish romp. Fast and fleet, with Frank and Joe showing their dexterity and Mazzaroppi ripping off his best solo of the night. Ascione doesn’t get the chance to show his “world’s fastest drum roll” in this group, but his brush work is at breakneck speed for this song, which is sure to become a fan favorite. “Paper Moon” took on an island flavor, even when Vignola quoted “who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” in the middle.
“It Might As Well be Spring” and Horace Silver’s “Ah So” were tunes not on the CD, as was the newly developed “Bowling Song,” a nod to one of Vignola’s favorite pastimes. The latter featured group vocals from the band in a tongue-in-cheek tribute” to the thrills of tossing ’em down the lane.