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  • Jonathan Widran

FRANK PIOMBO, A Smooth Collection

Multi-talented guitarist Frank Piombo brings a fascinating cultural and musical history to his emergence in recent years as a popular independent smooth jazz artist. A true citizen of the world, he spent his early years in North Africa and Rome (his mother’s birthplace) before the family moved to the U.S. when he was eight years old. His initial inspiration came from his father, who played romantic tunes on the accordion when he was only six.

Younger musicians today will never know what it’s like to grow up with the direct impact of The Beatles, but Frank (who was born in 1950) cites them as a chief influence for his excitement for and development on guitar. He was gigging by his late teens, but set his musical ambitions aside for many years as he pursued a successful career as a mathematics teacher and then teacher trainer in Newark for the Office of Mathematics. Decades later, he got back to gigging as a lead guitarist and vocalist alongside such groups as Sidewalk Symphony, The Fantasy Band, Stepping Out and the New Prince Band and sharing stages with The Duprees, The Mello Kings, Vito and the Salutations and Vito and the Elegants.

While he officially launched his career in the genre in 2010/2011 albums Smooth Reminiscence and several singles - including a tribute to his family homeland “Italia” – Frank’s been making his greatest impact in the genre since 2017, when he earned some solid press from his album Keep on Movin’. In 2020, his single “Luv Dat Smooth Latte (Nico’s Theme)” from his Family Concept EP hit’s Smooth Jazz Global chart for six weeks in a row; a year later, his unique twist on “Mercy Mercy Mercy” was promoted on 80 national radio stations, further building momentum for the flurry of singles he has released in the past two years which led to the drop of his dynamic, stylistically adventurous and rhythmically eclectic sixth (and current) perfectly titled album A Smooth Collection.

The latest of these singles, and the one deservedly receiving Frank’s biggest radio promotional campaign to date, is the bright, vibrant, infectiously funky “Luca’s Groove,” a whimsical tribute to the rambunctious spirit his family dog that showcases his crisp, fluid electric guitarisma and exciting interactions with retro keys and futuristic, George Dukesque synth colors. For all the success Frank has had to date, “Luca’s Groove” will no doubt be the tune that places him among the top indie artists in smooth jazz.

Testament to his ever-evolving, unpredictable creative spirit, Frank is possibly the first genre artist in history to pull a fascinating double switch – instrumental to vocal, vocal to instrumental – on a single album. He took the easy rolling brassy Latin romp “Middle of the Night” (from Keep It Movin’) and turned it into an even more exotic, and deeply emotional romantic tune by adding extra percussion and the sensual longing vocal of Doreen Arminio. Conversely, the guitarist converted a vocal version of “Our Love” that appeared on a 2013 compilation to a soulful, lilting, atmosphere laden tune featuring powerhouse saxophonist Michael Mahadeen.

Though the economy of the business ensures that artists must be selective about single song promotion, any of the other four tracks released as lead digital singles from A Smooth Collection could have been enduring airplay hits as well. Frank wrote the festive, tropical vibing, horn fired and reggae tinged “Island Dance” to cheer himself up during the pandemic – and it’s the most eminently danceable tune on the collection. Speaking of which, the balmy, whimsical and likewise tropical tinged “Dancing in Barcelona” is a charming gem (inspired by his daughters’ trip to Spain) centered on the lively interaction of Frank and keyboards approximating a steel pan sound, with lively piano solo towards the end by Billboard charting artist Joaquin Diaz, music director for superstar singer Romeo Santos.

True to its title, the vibrant “Shining Star” offers a dazzling light funk melody and the sparkling dual guitars of Frank and his amazing mentor Sandy Renda. And if the bright, playfully percussive sonic adventure-filled "Love’s Paradise,” sounds familiar, it should. It’s a classic from the legendary Joe Sample’s Oasis album. Keyboardist Donny Harrell pays inspiring homage to Sample’s retro electric keyboard vibe and includes some spacey synth excursions as well.

Other highlights (and possible future singles) include the chill, laid back ballad “As Smooth as It Gets” (whose title says it all) and the bluesy, hypnotic closer, the meditative “Dusk Till Dawn” featuring some Frank’s simmering guitar licks and the always gorgeous and colorful flute improvisations of guest artist Kim Scott.


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