66 2/3 – The Frank and Joe Show
Hyena Records 9334
We meet again. The Frank and Joe Show is a new name, but the credit "Produced by Joel Dorn for The Masked Announcer" is rather familiar. Dorn has a mission to bring jazz with at least a strong dose of the real thing to the masses and he’s pursued it over many years and many labels with more verve and inventiveness than much of the competition. Somehow, though, he always manages to irritate a bit in the process.
For instance, the circus conceit of 66 2/3’s packaging is amusing for a few seconds, but devoting seven pages of the booklet to a tall tale about Frank and Joe’s history is a bit much. I’d rather find out which of the four listed bassists appears on each cut, especially considering that such luminaries as Mark Egan are among them, but apparently this was a lower priority.
As for guitarist Frank Vignola and percussionist Joe Ascione themselves, though, the only irritating thing about them is that their music isn’t more irritating. Dorn’s decision to take them on suggests that he may have noticed the success of Norah Jones. Just as Jones melds Billie Holliday and James Taylor and shoots the results at the post-Lilith Fair crowd, the Frank and Joe show melds Django Reinhardt and the Buena Vista Social Club and turns the result into smooth jazz. Or, more precisely, what "smooth jazz" should be, since most people in that field don’t include as much jazz (or as much music) in their work as Frank, Joe and company manage.
Vignola can traverse the frets, Ascione can work up a percolating groove, and the two players and their cohorts span genres (from "It Might As Well Be Spring" to "City Samba" to "Bach Partita No. 2 For Solo Violin") without strain. Two entries from the pretty-dress-on-the-CD-cover school of jazz singing ("Manhattan" with Jane Monheit and "Glow Worm" with Janis Siegel) aren’t new, but they aren’t nauseating. The one thing that does leave a bad taste, though, is the decision to make the most potent cut (an odd meter outing that summons some of the energy of an unplugged Mahavishnu) a hidden track. Perhaps Frank, Joe, and/or Joel have their reasons, but it smacks too much of the smooth jazz compulsion to hide away the good stuff, as if out of a fear that the audience won’t be able to handle it.
The Frank and Joe Show have an easy time making good music, but it’d be better if it wasn’t so easy. I wish them and Dorn luck, though. It’s an admirable quest that they’re on, and perhaps one of these days both the artist and the producer will reach their destination.