Joe Mennonna's resume is long enough that he could probably omit mention of his jingles for McDonald's and Palmolive. The leader of Private Island lists a huge range of projects and instruments he's played for them as part of the overview for the group's debut album, Get To The Point
. Among the more noteworthy musicians are Don McLean and Michael Colina, and Mennonna is credited with nine instruments on this album. The emphasis seems to be showcasing all this experience on every song, not always a good thing.
This twelve-song smooth jazz set reveals Mennonna to be a proficient player of the saxophone, keyboard, guitar and other instruments, but as is often the case with multi-instrumentalists, he comes across as a master of none. The New York trio promotes itself as offering a wide range of compositions and influences, but this is a rather average collection likely to appeal most to listeners favorably inclined toward a stripped-down variation of the Rippingtons.
The classic highs and lows of a debut contemporary album are present as the trio strives to elevate their playing above clichés to catch the ear of new listeners but often falls short, due to song structures with formulas seemingly designed to maximize airplay.
There are highlights, but even those generally don't come without some flaws. Drummer Tyger Macneil injects some flair into the Caribbean rhythm of "Dimanche Gras,"? and Mennonna provides some playful moments on keyboards and synthesized steel drums, but it'd be considered Latin Lite anywhere else. The rumba-themed "Private Dance"? has enough complexity in composition and mood development in Mennonna's somber piano solo to hint at his potential, but it never fully develops. "Exodus"? is a pleasant closing soundtrack piece, but it relies more on instrumental color than performance to build drama.
Mostly, the material is instantly forgettable. "Autumn Paradise"? features Mennonna playing a rotation of short piano, sax, and trumpet solos that simply don't interact, develop, or feel imaginative. "The High Seas"? opens with a mix of "ocean wave"? sound effects and smooth sax riffs that evolve predictably into five minutes of nourishment-starved smooth pop ear candy, complete with chirping birds and other "mood"? setters. "Nothing You Can Do"? is a similarly empty vocal ballad; it's impossible to envision a target audience beyond the background make-out music crowd. "Rumblin' Bumblin' Stumblin'"? features a undistinguished horn section on the chorus, purely generic rock-fusion beat, and sax and guitar solos that are fast without really going anywhere.
This trio has the ability to refine its work and try competing in an overcrowded commercial market, but might be better off cutting loose and focusing on less conventional material to stand out. Mennonna is obviously a musician of many talents, and it would be great to hear a few explored in detail, rather than a collection seemingly determined to showcase his full resume on every song.
Track Listing: Get To The Point; Autumn Paradise; Rosemary; Dimanche Gras; The High Seas; Nothing You Can Do;
Private Dance; Open Round; Thrilled To Death; Rumblin
Personnel: Joe Mennonna, keyboard, guitar, mandocello, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, tuba, chadrulophone,
percussion; Ernest Poccia, bass, percussion; Tyger Macneil, drums
Year Released: 2005
| Record Label: Private Island Music
| Style: Contemporary/Smooth