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CD Review: Frank Villafañe – ‘South Beach’
By Francesco Emmanuel - 02/21/2007 - 04:59 PM EST

Artist: Frank Villafañe
Album: ‘South Beach’
CD Review: South Beach is a 5-song instrumental masterpiece by Frank Villafañe. The songs are well crafted, superbly produced and if they don’t get you off your chair and dancing, well, something is wrong with you! Seriously!

Frank Villafañe is a Latin-Jazz pianist, composer and arranger and plays con clave in the styles of Eddie Palmieri, Peruchin and Sergio Mendes.

The album is a mix of both Brazilian and Afro-Cuban percussion, taking Puerto-Rican and Cuban rhythms along with elements of NY Salsa, Jazz and Brazilian Baion and Samba/Batucada. The grooves are just infectious from beginning to end.

On this EP, Frank composed, arranged and played all the parts to every single song, he also recorded this lil gem in his home studio. So, clearly Frank knows what he’s doing.

The feel from each song gives the impression that this is a live recording, straight off-the-floor, it’s that good! Each track has a great flow to it, no heavy pre-production here, and it sounds like no use was made of digital software to recreate certain instrumentation.

The use of organ in the verse of the title track (which was featured on MusicTech Magazine’s web site) changes to a great piano melody line for the chorus. There’s some fancy finger work here. Again, Frank switches to piano in the bridge for a very tasteful solo. ‘Deco Drive’ trades-off melody lines between the Rhodes electric and a Grand acoustic piano, there’s samba whistles and solid percussion throughout the song. ‘Can’t Find Love’ has this repetitive Tumbao, subtle and sweet.

‘Antojos De Mi Tierra (Yearning for Home) is dedicated to Frank’s grandmother, who emigrated to the US from Puerto Rico in 1950. The song portrays just how much she missed her homeland. It includes Latin percussion in the forms of Mambo and Bomba (Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythm respectively). The bass solo opens with hints of Lamento Borincano, a famous song by Puerto Rican great Rafael Hernandez. The album finishes off with a mid-tempo, Latin-jazz version of the Christmas Carol ‘I Heard the Bells’. The album is short and sweet.

Frank was born in Bremerhaven, Germany to Mike and Elfriede Villafañe, but grew up all over the United States and Europe. Frank was introduced at an early age to Latin, Jazz, Calypso, Folk and the Classics and began playing piano at the age of 8.
At 12, Frank moved to Puerto Rico and got exposed to Salsa.

Frank’s 7th grade teacher provided musical direction when he heard an original copy of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. Moving back to the US, at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, Frank quickly acquired the art of Ragtime. He had his first paying gig at 14, playing Ragtime favorites for the WAFB Officers Club.

His father encouraged him to listen to many great Latin pianists, including Sergio Mendes (of Brasil 66 fame) and Cuban legend Pedro ‘Percuchin’ Justiz.
At Rutgers University, Frank began playing piano for Jazz & Latin conjunto bands and orchestras, while studying under the renowned Kenny Barron and Walter Bishop Jr. Immersed in theory and keyboard harmony classes; he also studied with Ted Dunbar, Frank Foster and Larry Ridley.

Frank has opened for (one of his influences) Eddie Palmieri in 2000 & 2005, and performed at the prestigious Red Bank RiverFest Jazz Festival 2001 & 2005. In between performing and recording, Frank composes all his music at his home studio.

There are some albums you like immediately, and this was one that got me going right away. If you’ve never taken a trip to South Beach, Frank Villafañe’s latest will take you there, only problem is, you may not wanna leave.

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