That Joey DeFrancesco's Goodfellas is one seriously cooking jazz record will come as no surprise to anyone who caught his stupendous performance with jazz organ legend Jimmy Smith in the "Organ Summit" at this year's San Francisco Jazz Festival. Able to wring all sorts of tones out of his organ -- from wailing, blues-inflected blasts to screeching Larry Young-like runs that seem to explode off the keyboard -- DeFrancesco is a rare master of the Hammond B-3. He's equally commanding whether he's milking a ballad like "All the Way" or going full-blast on uptempo bop tunes like Thelonious Monk's "Evidence," but the intensity (and the sense of humor) on display on his new record may pleasantly surprise even those who have followed DeFrancesco's work with heavies like Miles Davis and John McLaughlin.
The gimmick behind Goodfellas isn't hard to figure out: Three Italian-American jazz musicians -- DeFrancesco, guitarist Frank Vignola, and drummer Joe Ascione -- pay tribute to songs of their youth (like "Volare" and "O Solo Mio"), songs associated with Frank Sinatra ("Fly Me to the Moon" and "All the Way"), and appropriately titled originals and standards (Ascione's "Whack 'Em" and "Ya See What I'm Sayin'?" and Monk's "Evidence") to produce, as the liner notes put it, "a recording you can't refuse." But this is one gimmick that pays off, mostly because it's also one of those jazz records that make it seem unbelievable that the three musicians featured had never played together before the recording. Ascione's interplay with the other two is almost telepathic throughout, particularly on uptempo tunes like "Ya See What I'm Sayin'?" On "Volare," he seems to push DeFrancesco and Vignola to new heights, and when DeFrancesco and Vignola trade lines on "Young at Heart" it has the feel of two old friends trading drinking stories.
The record is also helped by the disc's hysterical packaging, a welcome shot in the arm in a genre not normally known for its sense of humor. There's the cover photo of "Don" DeFrancesco and his two mates relaxing after an Italian meal that looks ripped straight off a Scorsese storyboard. But even better are the priceless liner notes, written by one "Vinnie the Nose," that banter on in perfect Sicilianese about each track -- "All the Way" "starts off warm, like homemade focaccia right outta the oven" and "Young at Heart" is "light but not too soft, sorta al dente, you know what I mean?" Is it too much to ask for a companion music video?