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Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: Melody Magic

C. Michael Bailey By

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In the same adventurous spirit as Polkastra's "I Do" The Wedding Album (Ancalagon, 2013), a spirit that transcends genre, style, and even musical phyla, guitarists Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo, using the vehicle of the Hot Club gypsy swing jazz to transform a recital ranging from Beethoven and Bizet to The Beatles and Sting. Vignola provides the lion's share of arrangements, save for the Beatles' medley of "If I Fell" and "Here, There and Everywhere," which was arranged by guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. Instrumentation is de rigueur—acoustic and spare, employing bass, accordion, and/or violin in turn.

The music is mostly classical, with a true Hot Club reading of Beethoven's "5th Symphony" opening the disc. The pair plays the allegro con brio straight until the interior, whereSpanish and Gypsy influences bleed in, as well as late-romantic sonorities insinuating their way into the performance, making it easy to imagine this music being played in a small café of Paris' Left Bank in the present day. Bizet's "Carmen Habanera" is dispatched with all its hot-blooded passion, again with a parlor feel about it.

Pianist Uri Caine's Wagner e Venezia (Winter & Winter, 1997) and The Sidewalks of New York: Tin Pan Alley (Winter & Winter, 2000) possess this same quality of employing the instruments on hand to perform classical music in a parlor-like environment. The method provides the performer(s) an acute challenge to produce compelling music with instruments not necessarily associated with that music. Like Caine, Vignola rises to this challenge, transforming The Police's "Walking on The Moon" into a neo-reggae acoustic duet.

Melody Magic is "hinge music"—music that incorporates elements not normally associated with it. Recordings like this can go horribly wrong, as evidenced by cut-out bins full of such fare. Vignola and Raniolo, however, dispatch their ranging material with intelligence and care, producing a very satisfying set.

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