Although Gary Smulyan is arguably the world's greatest baritone saxophonist, does that mean we all want to hear him blow on "Funiculi Funicula?" Is anyone especially eager to learn what world-class jazz players would do with such music, especially if your ancestral homeland isn't shaped like a boot?
The quick answer might be no --- until you learn that Bella Napoli also features six vocals by the estimable Dominic Chianese, probably best known for playing devious Uncle Junior in the hit TV series, "The Sopranos." Although Signore Chianese is in his 80s, his tenor is still accurate and expressive, especially with such caressing support from this superlative and respectful band.
In fact, the uniqueness of this CD lies in its great good humor (the disk itself looks like a mini pizza), and the warm embraces at its heart. There's a tinge of sadness in here too, in its nostalgia for simpler days, traditional sounds, and departed loved ones, including the much-mourned James Gandolfini (aka Tony Soprano), one of those to whom Bella Napoli is dedicated.
While some of the wilder jazz can seem a bit incongruous in this context, it's impossible to be unmoved by the achingly tender version of "O Sole Mio," and the spontaneous a cappella closer, "Santa Lucia Lontana," which tells of leaving Naples for America, as Chianese's father did. Whatever the listener's background, it's easy to enjoy an outing that's so well-played, so free of contrivance, and so rich in soul.
Funiculi Funicula; Anema e Core; Fenestra Che Lucive; Marechiare; Peque;
O Sole Mio; O Saracino; A Vucchella: Dicitencello Vuie!; Tre Veglia e
Sonno; Santa Lucia Lontana.
Dominic Chianese: vocals; Gary Smulyan: Baritone Saxophone; Gary
Versace: piano, accordion,; Martin Wind: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Joe
Brent: mandolin, violin.