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Joey DeFrancesco: Joey DeFrancesco's Goodfellas

Ed Kopp By

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You can just imagine a pitchman trying to sell this concept to the suits: "OK, everybody, here's the plan: We find us three Italian jazzers. We have 'em play tunes popularized by famous Italian Americans — Old Blue Eyes and a couple more. We even throw in some old-country favorites — "O Solo Mio" and such. The cover photo is the clincher! Listen to this: We dress the boys up like gangsters! We sit ‘em down in an Italian restaurant with their backs to the wall, heaping plates of pasta staring them in the face. They glare at the camera with that "get outta my face or die" look. We release the thing on Columbus Day. What a concept! Hell, every spags-and-balls joint in America will want to play this one for atmosphere!"

I'm as cynical as sin when it comes to the music biz, but Joey DeFrancesco and company immediately won me over with Goodfellas. Actually conceived by DeFrancesco, this album is not without kitsch. But it's also a hell of a lot of fun, and fun is one adjective rarely used to describe mainstream jazz. Most importantly for jazz purists, Goodfellas really swings.

Teamed with guitarist Frank Vignola and swing-bop drummer Joe Ascione, B-3 master DeFrancesco plunges headlong into the music of his ethnic heritage. The CD opens appropriately with "Speak Softly Love," better known as the "Godfather Theme," which is given a pretty yet bluesy treatment. "Volare and" "Fly Me to the Moon" swing ferociously. The aria "O Solo Mio" is infused with a medium-tempo swing beat, while "Malefemmena" manages to sound funky and traditional at the same time — and man, does it end with a flourish! Toss in slow romantic tracks like "All The Way" and "Young At Heart," the boppish "Evidence," (I didn't know Monk was Italian) and the bluesy swinging originals "Wack 'Em," "Goodfellas," and "See What I'm Sayin'," and this one is like a heaping plate of manicotti with marinara: zesty yet substantial.

Frank Vignola returns to form after Deja Vu, his lamentable foray into smooth jazz. There's more than a bit of Joe Pass in his tasteful playing on "Young At Heart," and he delivers a wonderfully imaginative solo on Monk's "Evidence." He and DeFrancesco smartly trade fours on many of these tunes. Ascione never stops swinging. But this is mostly DeFrancesco's show, Joey's an absolute dynamo. Whether pushing the envelope on the fast songs or gently caressing a ballad with his full-bodied instrument, the man's a force of nature.

Also credit Vinnie the Nose for some truly hilarious liner notes.

Goodfellas is half Louis Prima, half Jimmy Smith. Momma mia, that's a spicy jazz music!

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