Gary Smulyan and Dominic Chianese
Bella Napoli
Capri Records ***1/2

US baritone saxophone star Gary Smulyan found himself not in the Bada Bing but in a recording studio in New Jersey in the early part of this year for this Neapolitan-themed album featuring Uncle Junior, no less, The Sopranos actor Dominic Chianese here in a singing role. Arranger Jeff Lederer set old and very powerful Neapolitan songs quite deliciously for Smulyan’s band of pianist/accordionist Gary Versace, bassist Martin Wind, drummer Matt Wilson, and mandolinist/violinist Joseph Brent who perform instrumentals and back Chianese on selected songs. With a pizza and a glass of vino on the cover and photos inside of the band framed on the wall of a restaurant the antipasti is swinging opener ‘Funiculì, Funiculà’ with a robust Smulyan leading from the front, as an imaginary waiter takes the orders. It’s highly likeable stuff and surprisingly moving in places: Smulyan channelling his inner Caruso on the wondrous melody line of Gaetano Errico Pennino’s ‘Pegue’ ('Pecche') while Chianese sings from the heart on ‘O Sole Mio’ and the tearjerking ‘Santa Lucia Lontana’ a song about leaving Naples for America where Chianese’s grandfather emigrated in 1904. SG
Released on 15 October