Frank Vignola

Kong Man

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Right off the bat you've got to give props to a band that can cover Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa, the Police, and Mozart on the same recording. That the Frank Vignola Quintet performs them with equal dexterity and originality is a fairly remarkable thing--especially when you consider that they do so within the framework of a progressive acoustic jazz-based guitar and mandolin band. But Vignola has always been his own man, and those covers, ear-popping though they may be, aren't even the most impressive things on Kong Man; Vignola's original compositions are. Vignola, second guitarist Vinny Raniolo, and mandolinist Josh Pinkham are at their most switched-on when they kick into overdrive, spilling out blistering, shimmering licks like the most blinding of bluegrass players. That's where things begin here: On "Luke," the Django-esque opening track, the three string-pickers, along with bassist Pete Coco and percussionist Rich Zukor, are asking for a speeding ticket, and even though they quickly settle back into something less frantic, the uptempo, good-natured "Salad and Donuts," and the relaxed Stewart Copeland-composed "Contact," the mostly instrumental album is at its most invigorating when the quintet chases one another's tails, as on "Fly Swatter" and the Mozart number, "Turkish Rondo." Throughout, the musicianship is impeccable and the brainy ideas never stop flowing. Some musicians attempt to prove they can play just about anything for just that reason: to prove they can. The Frank Vignola Quintet, on the other hand, is virtuosic enough to play just about anything, but their good-time jams never feel that they're meant to prove a single thing.