Lou Volpe has been a much-in-demand guitarist over the years, having performed with an astonishing array of artists that includes Herbie Hancock, Peggy Lee, Chaka Khan, Bo Diddley, David “Fathead” Newman, Chet Baker, Liza Minelli, Roberta Flack, Phoebe Snow, The Manhattan Transfer, Judy Collins, Bette Midler, and Herbie Mann. “Lou Volpe is a great guitarist,” George Benson has said, adding “you should hear this guy play.” Volpe’s style falls somewhere between those of Benson and Larry Coryell, although his often twangy sound and fresh, personalized phrasing help set him apart from them and other jazz guitarists. For his first all-standards CD (except for a transcendent Carlos Santana tune), Volpe pays tribute to Frank Sinatra, who would have turned 100 this month, and it’s the guitarist’s ample and assured interpretive ability that most closely mirrors one the the great singer’s key attributes. For this well-crafted project, Volpe was supported by an earnest and attuned group of musicians, such as keyboardists Delmar Brown, Mel Davis, and Onaje Allan Gumbs, bassists Stanley Banks and Leo Traversa, drummers Buddy Williams and Sipho Kunene, and percussionist Gary Fritz.
A catchy riff sets up Volpe’s reading of the “I’ll Remember April” theme, with an alluring twangy tone. His solo displays easeful swing, bluesy inflections, slick runs, and rich chordal passages. Volpe’s soulful intro to “Speak Low” precedes a stately presentation of the melody and a return to earthiness in his improv, recalling Benson in sound and substance. Williams’ drums and Fritz’s percussion, along with Banks’ bass, are the buoyant cloud upon which Volpe floats. Gumbs, and, yes, Volpe’s atmospheric keyboards enhance a delicately spun, heartfelt version of “It Was a Very Good Year,” as the guitarist plays with great feeling above Traversa’s pulsating bass and Williams’ kicking drums. On “You Go to My Head,” a gently swaying Latin rhythm elevates Volpe’s ingratiating guitar, his statement exhibiting a flair for thematic embellishment as well as harmonic depth.
Banks’ pungent bass lines and Williams’ back beat accentuate Volpe’s glittering formulations during “A Foggy Day,” aided also along the way by Brown’s bubbly lyricism. A blues sensibility pervades the treatment of “One For My Baby,” as Volpe’s quivering held notes evoke B.B. King to some extent, although this guitarist’s chops would leave the relatively more reserved B.B. in the dust, technically speaking. For “Days of Wine and Roses,” another tantalizing suspended-in-air prelude brings Volpe to both the theme and his keenly focused exploration, backed only by his own second guitar’s tasteful chords and rhythms. “That’s Life” features a reflectively soulful Volpe, bolstered by Brown’s organ swells, his own second guitar pickings, and the forceful drive of Traversa and Williams. It’s just Volpe’s two guitars once again on “Softly as I Leave You,” in an intimately yearning and totally captivating unveiling of the beautiful melody.
With “The Best is Yet to Come” Volpe’s refined attention to detail is exceptional, each note distinguished by a pure, slurred, or smeared articulation, technique subservient to the essence of the melody. The guitarist adopts a richly resonant timbre for “I Get a Kick Out of You,” his playing here most noticeably remindful of both Benson and Coryell in its subtle intricacy. “All the Things You Are” is a bravura up tempo outing that this time brings to mind the prodigious facility of a Tal Farlow and the constructive logic of a Les Paul. Volpe’s intonation on”I’ve Got You Under My Skin” seems to come closest to capturing Sinatra’s voice, as does his emotive, confident phrasing. The finale is Carlos Santana’s piece, “Europa,” here “dedicated to the brilliance of Frank,” a full five minutes of Volpe’s solo guitars, played with the grandeur and passionate commitment of its composer– down to earth, unpretentious, and masterful.