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Ladies and Gentlemen ... Mr. Johnny Pennino by Johnny Pennino

From the beginning to the ever lovin' end, 'Ladies and Gentlemen ... Mr. Johnny Pennino', is a pure joy to listen to. Man, what a sax player Mr. Johnny Pennino is!!! Incomparable!!! He's the kind of performer other sax players compare themselves 'to' ... and look up to ... without a doubt! Hailing from New Orleans, the 'Jazz Capitol of the World', Johnny grew up among the best musicians on the planet -- and is one of them, himself. How can he not be, when he has inborn talent; as well as having indelible musical influences like the great Louis Prima; Sam Butera's immortal sax virtuosity, (Prima's long-time sax player); Al Hirt's trumpet genius; and Boots Randolf's sax excellence to grow from. 'Tin ears' would fair well in that kind of musical environment.

Johnny is an inductee in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame - deservedly so! Listen to this very fine and well-put-together CD, and you'll realize why. Myles Tangedal, Johnny's business manager, recorded it 'live off the floor' in Toronto, Ontario, at a Westin Harbour Castle corporate gig. I was there! The atmosphere of the room was warm and friendly that night, even though it was a cold, wintery night outside, Tues. February 5, 2002. I remember it like it was yesterday, and always will.

The immortal "Ebb Tide" starts off Johnny's excellent choice of tunes on this very fine CD. Rippling waves of music from the hands of Johnny's long-time sidekick Richie Ladner on keys, gives birth to Johnny's soul inspiring sax solos all the way through this unforgettable melody, loved the world over. The only difference this time around, is that Johnny takes this familiar melody, and transcends to 'music heaven' with it, via his superb sax mastery. Robin Boers' melodic drumming, seems to sing percussively on this beautiful tune. Angelic piano riffs contributed by Richie, complete this musical picture for the listener.

Johnny takes his sax on a breezy walk through "Tuff". This delightful tune is reminiscent of the days when couples actually danced cheek-to-cheek -- and loved it! "Bourbon Street Parade" is a real New Orleans-style rouser, guaranteed to get everyone onto the dance floor; kickin' their heels up in true New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade fashion. Richie's expert piano solo on "Bourbon ...", helps keep the flow of energy going, with imagination and finesse. Johnny's effortless melodic sax playing on "Bourbon ...", demonstrates vividly how much Johnny enjoys playing music that's full of life. A catchy, toe-tapping bosa nova like "Desafinado", is skillfully intermingled with the sweet serenity of a moody tune like "Harlem Nocturne".

"The Shadow of Your Smile" is sweet, romantic and heartfelt all the way through. Johnny's sax playing 'screams' of lost loves -- and hopes for reconciliation .... a musical prayer for the ears. Richie completely outdoes himself on keys on this one; giving it all he's got with rippling, melodic solos and whimsical, chordal harmonies. Although an instrumental, the moment Johnny's immortal sax starts playing the melody to "Autumn Leaves", I immediately get the image in my mind of a young Keely Smith swaying to the rhythms of Louis Prima's orchestra, while getting ready to sing the words to this thoroughly enjoyable tune. When Richie's piano riffs come in, images of Keely standing alluringly near the piano, vividly come to mind. "Besame Mucho"'s latin rhythms say much with little effort, on this imaginative composition.

I would wager that if there's a Heaven and the unforgettable Judy Garland is there, she would probably love to listen to Johnny's beautiful rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Its melody has been a favorite of mine since childhood, when I first saw 'The Wizard of Oz' with child actress Garland in the starring role as Dorothy. Richie's vocals on this one, seem to be hearkening back to childhood memories -- when the 'Wicked Witch of the West' WAS REAL; but so were the 'Munchkins', and the 'Great Oz' himself!!!

"Time After Time" features Johnny's clear, operatic-like yet wholesome vocals and rousing sax melodies; coupled with Richie's warm piano riffs and Robin's stimulating drumming. Robin has been drummer for 'Toronto Sound' band The Ugly Ducklings for decades; ever since Toronto's posh Yorkville area was a middle-class 'hippy haven'.

"When You're Smilin'", is a rousing party tune, featuring Johnny and Robin goin' at it full throttle, on sax and drums. Richie's rough-edged vocals on this one, evoke the feel of a smoke-filled New Orleans speakeasy from the golden age of Prohibition. Included in this rousing medley is Prima's "Oh Marie", given a fine treatment on vocals by Richie. His rousing vocals on "Hello Dolly", (also part of this tri-tune medley), would I'm sure, get a smile and commendation from the late, great Louis Armstrong himself! This entertaining musical trio, is nicknamed "Around the World".

Johnny's soulful sax riffs on "September Song" seem to reach back to a long-ago romance, as if to say, 'sorry you're gone'. The heartbreak of "September ..." is soon broken by Johnny's powerhouse sax playing and Robin's energetic drumming on "A Foggy Day"; which is anything but, in mood and interpretation. Richie's brief vocals are a welcome addition to this tune.

The last incredible song on this magical, musical odyssey, is Carlos Santana's "Europa". Johnny takes 'Rock God', Santana's immortal tune to 'seventh heaven'. Johnny's melodic sax riffs hit highs in interpretation and feel on "Europa", that could bring tears to the soul itself! All in all, the 64-plus minutes of enchanting music on this very 'live in Toronto' CD is something 'the angels put together'; so we can have a little bit of Johnny's heavenly sax playing right here on earth!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Johnny Pennino
  • CD Title: Ladies and Gentlemen ... Mr. Johnny Pennino
  • Genre: Traditional / New Orleans
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: MT Productions
  • Musicians: Johnny Pennino (sax, vocals); Richie Ladner (keyboards, vocals); Robin Boeurs (drums, percussion)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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