Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review of Frank Vignola's "Gypsy Jazz" Trio " Live" at the Rowayton United Methodist Church, Rowayton, CT August 15, 2010

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and the bandstand at Pickney Park was covered in tarps. This was supposed to be the site of the Rowayton Civic Association’s  free Music in the park series, featuring master guitarist Frank Vignola and his trio, in a what was billed as an evening of gypsy jazz. The rain frightened off what should have been a nice crowd as it was unclear to many if the concert would go on. As it turns out the show  was unceremoniously displaced into the compact auditorium of the Rowayton United Methodist Church across the street from the park.

In this most intimate of settings, those who came were treated to an up close and personal concert from guitarist Frank Vignola, guitarist Vinny Raniolo and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. Frank is a notable player  having spent five years as a member of the venerable Les Paul’s trio. His guitar work crosses genres and has been heard on recordings with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Donald Fagen ,Queen Latifa and even with the pop queen Madonna.

100 Years of DjangoThe present trio recently released an album of music inspired by one of Frank’s guitar heroes, the great Django Reinhardt, aptly titled “100 years of Django”. It was mostly this music that was to be featured.

In the stained glass lit setting of the church, the three musicians were dressed formally in jackets and ties, a surreal juxtaposition to the rain diminished audience of approximately twenty-five, who came for the most part in shorts and tee shirts.

Frank is a smooth, precise, flat pick player who has an amazing facility to run arpeggios up and down his fret board in an effortless display of virtuosity. While he plays true to the gypsy style, his improvisations are infused with a decidedly blues based influence.

He started the program with Hoagie Carmichael’s
“Stardust” which he later referred to as perhaps one of the greatest American songs ever written. True or not the trio performed it in ala the Quintete of the Hot Club of Paris style that set the stage of what was to come.


He followed this with renditions of “Twilight Time” and then quickened the pace doing a double-time version of “Moonlight Serenade”. The trio plays with the well-oiled efficiency of a finely tuned machine; Frank taking the lead, Raniola and Mazzaroppi providing rhythmic pulse, with Mazzaroppi occasionally providing some pizzicato bass soling. As the group went into Richard Rodgers' “It Might As Well Be Spring” Frank suddenly stopped, as one of the audience obliviously came strolling in with a couple of boxes of steaming hot pizza. Frank joked about wanting a slice but it was clear this rude interruption was a distraction.The digressions unfortunately continued as a member of the audience allowed one of their children with a toy guitar to accompany Frank on stage. Cute at first, Frank and his trio were gracious beyond belief. As a father of four boys himself, he patiently encouraged the young boy to strum with them on a tune. The hapless parents should have extended the musicians the courtesy of sitting their son down after one song so as not to distract from the remaining performance, instead the side show lasted through several songs. At one point, talking in the rear was so distracting that a fellow musician had to go back to tell the people to quiet down. Embarrassingly it seems that even in wealthy enclaves like Rowayton too many people are oblivious to their own disrespectful behavior.

Despite these interruptions the trio were professional and undaunted. They chose a series of songs that were likely more identifiable to the audience, including the Beatles' “ Here There and Everywhere", “Killing Me Softly” and “Dust in the Wind”. A rousing rendition of Brahms' “Hungarian Dance #5” led into the whimsical “Tico, Tico” with a brief side journey through Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven”

As you can tell by the diversity of the music this group can play to an audience. Because of the informal nature of the setting and the compactness of the audience Frank entertained some requests. My personal favorites were his rendition of the classic “Stella by Starlight”, which he played in a way that reminded me of Joe Pass’s style and their wonderful version of Cole Porter’s “ Night and Day”. Frank performed a couple of Henry Mancini tunes, the wistful “Moon River” and the playful “Theme to the Pink Panther”. The trio wowed the audience with their tremendous facility on a furiously paced “Flight of the Bumblebee”.


Despite the distractions and the poor rain-influenced showing it was a wonderful opportunity to see Frank Vignola and his trio up close and personal. The Rowayton Civic Association and their generous sponsors should be commended for providing free access to talented musical performers like the Frank Vignola Trio. Frank is a tremendous player and from what I witnessed a most gracious person. Hopefully next time he is in Connecticut he will be playing in front of a larger and more appreciative audience.He deserves it.

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