Gary Smulyan and Dominic Chianese – Bella Napoli (2013)

Share this:

A love letter to classic Italian music, Bella Napoli features an unlikely pairing and a lot of flavor. The recording from baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and singer Dominic Chianese is an interesting blend of delicacy and earnestness, generating a set of tunes that is as aromatic as it is elusive.

Many will recognize Chianese from his role as Uncle Junior on the renowned television series The Sopranos, but he carves out his own passion on Bella Napoli. Pairing him with the cannon-fire of Smulyan’s baritone sax may seem like asking for trouble, but the 82-year-old is more than up to the task.

“I had been wanting to do a jazz project interpreting classic Italian songs for a long time,” explains the saxophonist. “For me, these tunes are akin to the gems that jazz musicians have culled from the Great American Songbook.”

There is indeed a lot of greatness to be found in these pieces. Smulyan and Chianese are joined by a crackerjack organization that includes pianist and accordionist Gary Versace, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Martin Wind. Joseph Brent also plays mandolin and violin, while Jeff Lederer arranges. Bella Napoli features a mix of instrumental and vocal pieces, drawing its tradition from Canzone Napoletana in the late 19th and 20th centuries. “The lyrics draw on a dialect particular to Naples and the style of the music also speaks in this region manner,” says Lederer.

Opening with an instrumental rendition of the classic “Funiculi Funicula” is a clever move. The piece sets up with Wilson’s cymbal playing around with some neat chording by Versace. Smulyan edges in and blasts big, chunky lines like a portly customer placing an order for calzones in a neighbourhood joint.

Renato Carosone’s “O Saracino” is another fun instrumental. This time, Versace is on accordion and the vibrancy feels like a wedding dance.

Chianese shows his vocal chops on tracks like the traditional “O Sole Mio.” He stretches the note but doesn’t overdo it, remaining fixed in his wheelhouse. His tone is clear and his enunciation sharp, but it’s the tenderness lying underneath the notes that really sinks in. Chianese’s closing note is perfection, while Smulyan’s baritone solo offers a nice but nearly overwhelming counterbalance.

Also of note is a lovely interpretation of “Santo Lucia Lontana” handled alone by Chianese. “Here’s a song about leaving Naples for America at the beginning of the 20th century,” he says before demonstrating the range of his beautifully textured tenor.

Bella Napoli is a good record. The union of Chianese and Smulyan very nearly always works, even when it shouldn’t, and the resultant pieces are delightful instances of historical import, cultural fullness and robust sustenance for the musical soul.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B00EAZYKO8″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B000EULSFM” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B006CR2OOA” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B0064U6NYC” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00005KATY” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]

Share this:
Close