Review: The Frank Vignola Hot Jazz Trio – Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast

It’s been a few years since jazz guitar maestro Frank Vignola visited these shores, and things have changed. Instead of a duo with long-time collaborator Vinnie Ranniolo, there’s now a trio with the inclusion of Kenneth F Smith. There’s also the matter of a serious and potentially career-ending accident suffered by Vignola nearly a year ago, but here he is – back on the road and playing as great as ever.

Opening tonight is the ever surprising and very talented Síomha from Ennis, Co Clare. Síomha performs solo with a beautiful sunburst Epiphone electric guitar and she really makes her half dozen songs count.

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

The slightly harsh edge to her electric guitar seems to perfectly compliment her rich and mellow vocals. “Fly” is played with a rhythmic, staccato style and “Night Bird” allows Síomha to hit the higher notes. “Cover Me” is a wonderful slice of 80’s style funk, which slides into Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby.”

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

On “Why Did We Fall In Love” she plays slow blues with a chopping rhythm, layering fills and licks on top of this; this is a sumptuous love song and Síomha tops this off by ending on the beautiful “July Red Sky”.

There’s no hanging about with tonight’s headliners and they take the stage and launch into their first number five minutes before the advertised start time.

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

This offers Vignola the opportunity to gently badger latecomers and have a little fun at their expense, although not as much fun as when the band left the stage to go and look for one poor soul who had decided to venture to the toilet before the end of their set..

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

Clad in suits, shirts and ties, they as ever look the part, and their first few numbers are classic jazz guitar numbers with all three taking turns to play lead. Most of this falls to Vignola with Raniolo picking up the slack and Smith contributing bass lines and rhythm.

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

Somewhere in the opening salvo of tunes are “It Might As Well Be Spring,” “September Song” and “Paper Moon” and the ease with which Vignola plays the most complex of guitar breaks is breathtaking.

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

“Tico Tico” allows Raniolo to give a full-on manic solo and the band are in perfect synchronisation for a stonking version of The Shadows’ “Apache.” This takes off at a gallop and at some stage transforms into Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger,” complete with a brief spot of dancing and high kicks from the trio. We nearly get to hear “Killing Me Softly” before Vignola gets distracted by “the Hendrix chord” and ends up sharing New Jersey jokes with the band while they sort out some tuning issues.

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” is delivered as a slow swing number, before the band head into firstly their “Brazil section” which is closely followed by their “Spanish section.” Too many great tunes to mention, never mind count.

The band invite Síomha back on stage to sing Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek” and after this they refuse to let her leave until she has also blasted through an incredible version of “Summertime.”

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

Once this ends, Vignola is quick to ask the audience “what do we do after that?” He’s right – it was that good. Someone shouts for the band to play “Take Five” and they do. Out of nowhere “The Flight Of The Bumblee” appears and they bring the show to a close with a couple of Django Reinhart tunes.

This was an evening of sublime music. Síomha is an awesome performer, either solo or with her band, and Vignola’s Hot Jazz Trio are definitely hot, as well as being three of the most incredibly talented guitarists you could ever hope to hear.

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

There’s good reason why Vignola was Les Paul’s go-to guitarist for many years, and including guitarists the caliber of Raniolo and Smith, ratchet up the enjoyment level.

The band have three dates left on their Irish tour (Letterkenny, Armagh and Derry) – catch them if you have the chance.

frank vignola hot jazz trio - crescent 2018

If you don’t have the chance, make the chance – if you love the guitar, you’ll be blown away.