Two of my all-time favorite acoustic guitar duet recordings are Les Deux Amis Plays Focus Classics and Peter Kraus & Mark Bird's Satie for Two Guitars because that highly restricted format finds worlds of beauty in stripped-down straight takes, so when I want things jazzed up, I repair to the old LP line Larry Coryell trotted out with Philip Catherine, Steve Khan, and others, or to cats like Strunz & Farah. But what one rarely hears are guitar duets in ensemble—that is, with surrounding ornamemtalia. Well, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo's Melody Magic has given us that because Magic isn't really a duet outing—in fact so only in one cut, a Beatles medley. Why, then, am I classing them in with those other efforts? Because when you hear tracks like their take on Kansas' Dust in the Wind as well as the many classical covers (Beethoven's Fifth, Carmen Habenera, Scheherazade, etc.), if you're at all tended like me, you're going to index this CD in with that klatsch.
The unusual arrangement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, with its pulsing staccato underlayer of one guitar in ostinato while the other voices the melody is bewitching, as is the jazzy Swan Lake Scene, which could easily stand as a cinematic saunter along the Seine or a Romantic cafe night interlude. Then there's the ultra speedy version of Survivor's otherwise horribly clunky monster chart hit Eye of the Tiger, here completely made over into a hot jazz bullet train (with a good deal of Strunz & Farah styled chops). Julien Labro's accompanying amphetamined accordion and Zack Brock's hummingbird violin then take things to the next level, and fans of, say, the Dixie Dregs are going to find their mouths watering.
The reason for the very high degree of acumen here is no mystery: Frank Vignola was a key proponent in the move to re-gear the old hot jazz movement and has worked with not only cats like David Grisman and Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) but also a gent who makes even John McLaughlin take a step back: Tommy Emmanuel, one of the truly astounding guitar players of the 20th/21st century. Vignola doubled up with him on a CD collab a while back, and you're not going to find many fretbenders who'd dare to even think about that. They'd rather turn in their fingers with the bowties and tuxes and sidle silently out the back door. Emmanuel's scary good. But Vignola did it and not only lived to tell the tale, but is just as happy on a slow faithful rendering as within an inhumanly ratcheted-up fretburner. You get both in Melody Magic, an Azica/Naxos gig, so you know it's quality, and even some way cool critters a-buggin' cartoon cover art (Elwood H. Smith) that'll tickle your funny bone. What more could ya ask?
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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