The cover photo on this CD says it all. Here we have three Italian musicians performing Italian songs … but not resembling the versions you're accustomed to hearing.
DeFrancesco, just 28, recruited guitarist Frank Vignola and drummer Joe Ascione to record the music they all grew up with in their families. A shared love for the music, food and motion pictures associated with their heritage serves as the backdrop for Goodfellas, an intensely pleasurable listen not just for Italians, but for the rest of us who wish we were.
This recording marks the first time the trio has played together. Most of the songs were first takes, without any rehearsal whatsoever, and the project was completed in just two days (which, DeFrancesco says, were filled with "continuous laughter and humor"). This of course speaks directly to the musicianship of the players.
Despite the fact that he is still not as widely known as he should be, DeFrancesco's resume speaks for itself. He hails from South Philly, jazz organ capital of the world, and at a very young age was exposed to the true masters by his father (also a jazz organ player). Young Joey had every opportunity to learn from players like Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff. At age seven he was going to clubs with his father; at ten he was playing weekend gigs for cash. Miles Davis enlisted him for his band when he was seventeen. He's worked extensively with guitarist John McLaughlin and laid down his groove on an incredible 1994 CD with Danny Gatton called "Relentless." He's been in the studio with a number of saxophonists and has released varied records of his own.
On Goodfellas, Joey, Frank and Joe deliver jazzed-up versions of the Italian standards. Appropriately, the first track is "Speak Softly Love" (the theme from "The Godfather"). "Volare" is brisk and upbeat. "Fly Me to the Moon" (my vote for favorite), "All the Way" and "Young at Heart" are tributes to Old Blue Eyes. "O Solo Mio" is transformed from an aria to a blues groove, and "Malafemmena" builds up so much momentum that by song's end it's rockin' and swingin' harder than a Y2K New Year's party.
There's plenty of Italian humor to be found here, from the hilarious liner notes to the concepts behind the originals. "Whack 'Em" (written by - who else? - the drummer) is based on Jimmy Smith's bluesy arrangement of "Organ Grinder Swing." The title cut is a nice, slow blues with a standard I, V, IV progression.
This album defies you to sit still. The first time I listened to it I was raking leaves. Good thing the neighbors weren't home because by the end of the third song my rake had become my dancing partner and I was twirling across the yard like a fool. It'll do ya like that.
Pass the pasta!
This review is copyright © 1999 by Ann Wickstrom, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.