At first thought, a guitar tribute to Frank Sinatra might seem to be something of a contradiction in terms. But just a few minutes into the extraordinary guitarist Lou Volpe’s brilliant new album Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra), it will make perfect sense.
Sinatra was known not only for his wonderful voice, but also for his absolutely impeccable phrasing and timing, and for his spectacular interpretive skills that made it sound as if every lyricist had written the song specifically for Frank to sing. He put aside his own virtuosity in order to make the song the center of attention to give it every fiber of his being as an artist. Each song was conceived and developed for its ideal presentation, like a fine jeweler perceiving the essence of the stone before shaping it to its perfect state.
So it is with Lou Volpe.
A virtuoso of consummate artistry, Lou is in masterful control of not only his instrument, but also the full vernacular of musical expression, distilled into a sound as distinctive and personal as the human voice. His playing “’sings” the song as if he was uttering the lyrics. Throughout this album, his phrasing is always perfectly shaped to the demands of the song and its lyrics, and never beholden to his personal style. As with Sinatra, that personal interpretation is entirely his, while still making the song the center of focus.
Lou’s playing is spectacular throughout. Blazing single-note runs, riveting chordal playing, rich smears, edgy twang, swirling crescendos, filigreed delicacy, inventive call-and-response, and brilliant use of syncopation and suspension are all brought to the fore as needed to tell the fascinating and utterly enthralling stories that are not only contained in the lyrics, but within the singular artistry that is Lou Volpe. Virtuosic without question, but never for its own sake and always within the purest essence of the song and the tale it tells.
The 13 Sinatra classics – plus one very special dedication to him – are not arranged to replicate the Chairman’s versions. Nonetheless, each song has been splendidly constructed in arrangement and production to respect and honor the unique manner in which Sinatra painstakingly crafted each of his own interpretations – and performed with the same emotive and captivating fervor.
Eight exceptional artists were selected to perform this music with Lou, assembled into various combinations specifically suited to the vision conceived for each song. These include Delmar Brown, Mel Davis and Onaje Allen Gumbs on keyboards; bassists Stanley Banks and Leo Traversa; Buddy Williams and Gary Fritz on drums and percussion respectively; with drummer Sipho Kunene offering his talents on one track. While their roles are essentially supportive to Lou’s interpretive genius, the flawless musicality and loving care that they bring to every piece is breathtaking, as they make this music their own.
Appropriately, most of the songs selected are from the Great American Songbook, with a couple of more recent Sinatra hits as well. The later pieces include It Was A Very Good Year offered as a soul ballad – lilting, gentle and atmospheric, with some delicious fills by Onaje, and with Lou adding his own keyboard colorations. That’s Life receives a gospel-ish treatment with Lou evoking Grant Green over a B3-flavored pastiche from Delmar.
The trio support of Davis, Banks and Williams is featured on three tracks. I’ll Remember April opens the album in wide-open cooker fashion, launched on a Coltrane-inspired rhythm with briskly walking bass and Williams shifting rhythms eloquently. A smoldering, dramatic groove is at play for A Foggy Day, from its Wes Montgomery/Barney Kessel inspired melodic statement to the spirited solo by Davis. Suspense is the operative word here, not only for its suspended rhythms but also for its thematic context. And Sinatra’s quintessential late-night barroom classic One For My Baby is a funky soul blues with a hint of B.B. King on tap, all driven smoothly by Banks’ dark blue pulse.
A delightful Brazilian feel with Samba/Bossa Nova flavoring spices four items, each greatly enhanced by the effervescent percussion of Gary Fritz. The Best Is Yet To Come is a mid-tempo percussive smoker, with Lou also on keyboards, contributing to its richly textured rhythmic core. The infectiously buoyant and joyful Speak Low contains some blazing single-note runs that would have made Johnny Smith smile. An evocatively shimmering version of You Go To My Head features some especially remarkable percussion interplay. I’ve Got You Under My Skin has some tantalizing behind-the-beat playing from Lou (who also plays bass), and the scintillating presence of Sipho Kunene on drums.
The playful I Get A Kick Out Of You is a rhythmically alluring jaunt that features some deliciously chordal Wes-like playing by Lou; and All The Things You Are is a scorcher, featuring Lou backed only by Leo’s bass and Buddy’s drums, and tearing off some explosive, vividly syncopated runs.
Three enchanting solo pieces round out this marvelous album, each with subtly effective and tasteful overdubbing that allows Lou to accompany and color his own leads. These include a vividly suspended and lovely version of Days Of Wine And Roses; and Softly As I Leave You, an exquisite, deeply touching ballad of beguiling intimacy. The final solo piece, which closes the album in poignant and emotionally powerful fashion is Carlos Santana’s gorgeous Europa, subtitled by Lou (Dedicated to the Brilliance of Frank) – a majestic and luminous tour-de-force.
Romantic, danceable, uplifting and marvelously enjoyable, Lou Volpe’s Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra) is an album that will be listened to over and over again.
For more information, visit http://louvolpejazz.com/
The Lou Volpe Group
Celebrates The Release of his new CD
"Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes"
Tuesday, December 8th 8pm
@ John Birks Gillespie Theater
Admission is $15.
Tickets will be sold at the door.
Advance tickets can be purchased by credit card only by calling 212-222-5159.
Or you can purchase them at his website www.louvolpejazz.com
John Birks Gillespie Theater
53 East 11th Street