Frank Vignola’s Hot Club:
Celebrating 100 years of Django Reinhardt
The following night Berkner Hall’s stage turned white hot as jazz guitar virtuoso Frank Vignola (also a Long Island native) returned to BNL to kick off his new tour that he’s calling Frank Vignola’s Hot Club Celebrating 100 Years of Django Reinhardt. For those not familiar, Django was a French Gypsy jazz guitarist who, despite an injury leaving just three fingers on his left hand, went on to become one of the most renowned jazz guitar players of all time. Vignola had played BNL’s Brookhaven Center cabaret with Vinnie Raniolo on second guitar last year to rave reviews (see previous article in Opinion8ed). This time he assembled a larger gypsy-style Django influenced jazz band that includes Raniolo, Gary Mazzaroppi (the late Les Paul’s bass player of 15 years), Zach Brock on violin, and Julien Labro on accordian, with a special guest appearance by 84 year old legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.
You can tell from listening for 10 minutes that Frank is a perfectionist. His playing, though electrifyingly fast is both accurate and precise – whether he is playing a melodic line, a quickly shifting chord progression, or an intrincate improvisational riff, the delivery is purposeful. Vignola, the band leader runs a tight ship and the organization of his band’s performance is equally coordinated and deliberate in contrast to the informal ambiance of the Crooked Road. Frank is not without a sense of humor however. In a trademark move, when several shills wandered in late and sat down in the first row, he stopped in the middle of the song to chastise them. He then proceeded to summarize what they missed by rapidly leading the band through eight bars of each of the tunes they had played thusfar and picked up where they left off without missing a beat.
Frank has played with many combinations of talented jazz musicians but this particular assemblege lived up to the billing: they were hot! He was not merely paying tribute to Bucky Pizzarelli by including him on the bill – Bucky can still play effortlessly lyrcial lead and rock solid rhythm guitar – the outstanding musical interchange between them showed their mutual respect. Violinist Zach Brock recalled the spirit of the late Stephane Grappelli, longtime collaborator and co-founder with Django Reinhardt of Quintette du Hot Club de France, while bringing a fresh interpretation. Julien Labro, plays a gypsy-style chromatic button accordian, which has rows of individual buttons that can be played individually or together (compared with the more conventional piano accordian), and is an accomplished performer and compostion major. Both Zach and Julien contributed to the layered sound of the Hot Club Band but more than held their own when it was their turn to take the lead. In fact, each of the six band members had multiple opportunities to receive rousing recognition from the crowd following their solos.
BNL has long been renowned for its seven Nobel prizes and numerous scientific discoveries. In it’s over 60 years of operation the Lab has also been the epicenter of some remarkable cultural events. But for those fortunate to have experienced them both, last weekend’s back to back breakthrough Berkner Hall concerts featuring The Crooked Road and Frank Vignola’s Hot Club set a new standard.
Note: The author of this review was involved in producing The Crooked Road Concert and thus confesses to a less than total objective point of view…
Check out the video clip below (not recorded at BNL concert, but with the same band members)