Review: Great Guitars mix artistry with some goofy humor
TROY Claiming at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday that they’d had a request to perform Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” scene one, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo did some dancer warmups without taking off their guitars; then played it beautifully while dancing around. If Vignola and Raniolo supplied the ridiculous in Great Guitars, they also helped with the sublime, alongside their brothers-on-the-frets Martin Taylor and Peppino D’Agostino.
A reserved Scot of serious mien and major skills, Taylor jokingly Italian-ized his name, to sound right among his paisans: the fourth guitarist was Peppino D’Agostino. Taylor has been part of Great Guitars (founded in the 1970s by Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis) since the 1980s. The franchise ran out of steam a few years later, but Taylor credibly, entertainingly revived it on Saturday in an all-star revue of solos, duets and all-in romps.
Taylor’s “Last Train to Hauteville” got everybody in the groove, Vignola — both Great Guitars’ most fiery and funniest performer — quoting “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing)” to delighted applause. D’Agostino starred in “Morning of the Carnival,” though Vignola’s double-time solo took over before he left with Raniolo afterward. Taylor and D’Agostino carried on, duetting in D’Agostino’s 7/8 bluesy “Venus over Venice.” Taylor said the odd time signature might make his brain explode, but he actually led in this tune as in “One Day,” a delicate love letter to his native Scotland.
When Vignola and Raniolo replaced Taylor and D’Agostino, comedy often erupted among their duets. In “Nothing Could be Finer,” Vignola spotted a fan photographing them. He waved Raniolo to a halt and they posed together, several times. They goofed on show-biz but never on the music: swinging their guitars in unison, leading a sing-along in “Stairway to Heaven,” for example, while playing with great flash and dazzle; Vignola definitely was the senior partner in their duets. Taylor and D’Agostino returned for Taylor’s all-in Caribbean rhapsody “Down at Cocomo’s,” damping his strings to emulate steel drums.
After the break, Taylor soloed, swinging “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” before yielding to D’Agostino’s “Penumbra” that blended baroque and minimalism before asking everyone to close our eyes for his hypnotic waltz “The Blue Ocean.” Vignola and Raniolo took over, performing as visually as sonically. Taylor made it a trio in “Air Mail Special,” and D’Agostino completed the quartet in a jaunty swing tune before “Autumn Leaves” allowed both dazzling playing and humorously exaggerated sadness at wrapping up their six-show tour here on Saturday.
While the arch-tops Vignola and Taylor played delivered a sharper bite than the flat-tops in the hands of Raniolo and D’Agostino, everybody swung with clean precision. Their performing styles fit, too. Vignola’s humor might have seemed silly, but he played at least as well as everyone else. The show balanced in the aggregate, but felt episodic at times.