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Gary Smulyan & Dominic Chianese: Bella Napoli

Larry Taylor By

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Some concepts that seem far out, turn out to be right on. That is the case of the unlikely musical combination which comes together in the entertaining CD Bella Napoli—a salute to popular Italian song classics. Two greats pull this all together: acclaimed poll winner Gary Smulyan on baritone sax and actor-singer Dominic Chianese, well known as Uncle Junior on "The Sopranos," the Emmy-winning HBO TV series.

And, as it turns out, Chianese is also a respected singer with a fine tenor voice. This is Chianese's second album

For Smulyan, this is the jazz veteran's 11th album as leader during his very active career, beginning in the late seventies.

What brought the two together was love of the old Neopolitan "canzones." A first-rate backup group—Gary Versace on piano and accordion, Martin Wind on bass, Matt Wilson on drums, Joe Brent on mandolin and violin— was brought together ans is indispensable in successfully combining this mixture of traditional and modern tunes. It's all "estremamente piacevole" or, in the Neapolitan vernacular.

Half the numbers here are vocals; half instrumentals. These Italian classics have come into American culture, as well. Most have heard them on recordings and radio or TV (often with lyrics translated into English. In addition, they create ambiance in ristorantes and trattorias.

Likewise, they were sung by past tenors, from Luchino Pavarotti and Mario Lanza, back to Enrico Caruso. Smulyan likens these stand-bys to master works from our Great American Songbook. He says the quintet at hand tries to capture the deeply soulful, funky quality inherent in this music.

In most of the instrumentals, the group introduces the familiar melody which provides fodder for fine solos from Smulyan et al. The accordion, mandolin and violin add rich Italian flavor to the mix.

Two big numbers grab attention. The opener, "Funiculi Funicula," with its jaunty tune and irresistible beat, is given new life by the Bari sax. Following, the mood changes with the mellow voice of Chianese caressing the plaintive "Aneme e Core," made even dreamier by the band's soft, subdued backing.

Another boisterous cut, "O Saracino" is introduced by the drums, erupting with Vesuvian force, firing up Smulyan for a breakneck solo.

As might be expected, Chianese impresses with his soulful "O Sole Mio," his voice lamenting (in thetranslation): "There's no tomorrow, only tonight." This brings the listener irresistibly into what follows, "A Vucchella," Chianese's rendering of this lovely lullaby, aptly transitions into the heart-rendering unaccompanied "Santa Lucia Lontana,"a cherished Neapolitaan song about leaving Italy. This is dedicated to his father's immigration to America.

Bringing to fruition this artistic project, hopefully, will set the stage for similar cross-genre recordings.

Track Listing: 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.

Personnel: Dominic Chianese: vocals; Gary Smulyan: Baritone Saxophone; Gary Versace: piano, accordion,; Martin Wind: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Joe Brent: mandolin, violin.

Title: Bella Napoli | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Capri Records

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