Guitarist Frank Vignola and drummer/percussionist Joe Ascione recently marked their one-year anniversary of Sunday night gigs at New York's Sweet Rhythm with the release of this wonderfully quirky album that defies definition. How else can you describe a recording that features the theme from an old cartoon show, a rock era pop tune, Cole Porter and Rimsky-Korsakov all on the same disc?
Vignola and Ascione have long established themselves as younger musicians with both an appreciation for swing and ears for expanding on that tradition. People with agile memories will recall that they were two of the key parts in a group called Travelin' Light, which featured as its front line a tuba and Vignola's banjo and guitar. When you consider that resumé item, this album shouldn't come as too much of a shock.
The two have assembled a collection of tunes that, on first thought, belong together like ketchup and ice cream. They dispatch both "Flight of the Bumblebee" and the blues-based theme from the old Spiderman cartoon with equal alarcrity. Drained of its sappy lyric, "Alone Again Naturally" is turned into very pleasant ballad in their capable hands.
Joining them on the album are Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Charles Burnham on violin, Mac Rebennack on piano and, depending on the tune, either Sean Smith, Joel Forbes or Gary Mazzaroppi on bass. Chuck Ferruggia gets credit as "tambourine holder," a union gig, no doubt.
Adding to the mixture are some brief guest vocals by Janis Siegel on "Don't Fence Me In," Jane Monheit on "Besame Mucho" and Rebennack's alter ego, Dr. John, on "Sheik of Araby." Some nifty multitracking turns Siegel into the Andrews Sisters for her upbeat Cole Porter number, while Dr. John hardly gets the lyric out before his turn comes to a somewhat abrupt ending. Monheit's contribution is skilled, but without the strong vocal personality that the instrumentation cries out for.
In all, though, this is a wonderful demonstration of two guys with taste and chops, as is all too obvious when they blow through "Mozart Jam" like a fast mail through a mainline station. "Paper Moon" starts as a jaunty South-of-the-border trip and gets sidetracked by "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" before resuming its course. Suffice it to say that when you can combine such disparate themes on the same album and make it work, you've achieved something. 33 1/3 is a real treat, and you'll find yourself going back to it repeatedly.
Begin The Beguine; Don't Fence Me In; Tico Tico; Mozart Jam; Sheik Of Araby; Sweet Rhythm; Besame Mucho; Spiderman; Paper Moon; Long Train Runnin'; Alone Again Naturally; Flight Of The Bumblebee;