If Roberta Gambarini had chosen to pursue opera we might be seeing her at the Met instead of in the world's top jazz clubs, so exquisite is the natural lyricism of her voice and her technical mastery of its use. Absent from her performance are the blatant shifts in registration, dicey intonation, and questionable diction that are often stereotypically associated rightly or wrongly with jazz singing. But a jazz singer Gambarini is, and a fantastic one at that.
Gambarini came to the U.S. from her native Italy in 1998 and within two weeks had taken third-place honors at the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition (Jane Monheit ranked second and the late Teri Thornton placed first). Fast forward to today: Gambarini is on stage with the Hank Jones Trio as part of the JVC Jazz Festival here in New York and releasing her first album, Easy To Love.
Pianist Hank Jones hosted a kaleidoscope of illustrious talent at The Kaye Playhouse on June 13: in addition to Gambarini, bassist George Mraz, drummer Willie Jones III, guitarist Russell Malone, and trumpeters Joe Wilder and Roy Hargrove moved deftly through an inviting program of jazz classics. As she does on the CD, Gambarini opened her first song, "Easy To Love, with a free a capella section, perfectly in tune (hard to do), before shifting into a moderate swing. Later, with the ballad "It Never Entered My Mind and the mid-tempo "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me Gambarini revealed a dependable rhythmic sensitivity and a powerful, unforced lower register.
Relative newcomer Gambarini held her own before the sheer wattage on the stage with her, but the demands of the program left little time for extended soloing. More's the pity, because Gambarini's soloing skills, more apparent on the CD, are formidable. On the album she takes on the bebop solos of Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Rollins from Gillespie's 1957 arrangement of "On The Sunny Side Of The Street her vocalese nimbly recreates their inspired blowing. Gambarini adds lyrics where necessary to execute a horn solo, as in her rendering of saxophonist Johnny Hodges work on "Multi-Colored Blue, recorded on Duke Ellington's album, The Newport Jazz Festival (1958). Further, apart from her adaptations of well-known instrumental improvisations, Gambarini arranges all of her own material, which includes a healthy dose of traditional vocal standards.
Personnel: Roberta Gambarini: vocals; James Moody: tenor sax, vocal; Tamir Hendelman: piano; Gerald Clayton: piano; John Clayton: bass; Chuck Berghoffer: bass; Willie Jones III: drums; Joe La Barbera: drums.