With all due caution about overstatement, let me say that I don't know of a better pure jazz vocalist than Roberta Gambarini. She shows us all that the art of jazz singing is alive and well. During the past few years she has become almost a cult figure, thrilling live international audiences, becoming the subject of enthusiastic discussions on various internet jazz chat forums, and being hailed by numerous insiders as perhaps today's finest young jazz singer. Gambarini is now signed, and the recording that everyone has been waiting for is finally here.
Perhaps the first thing one notes on Easy to Love is Gambarani's outstanding versatility and near-flawless pitch. She swings on the up-tempo numbers, she's convincing with the blues, and she shows vulnerability and ease with slow tempos. Her voice has a warm, velvet quality, her time and rhythm are as precise as anyone who ever sang a note, and unlike so many jazz singers, she interprets lyrics well. You hear every syllable and you understand the meaning behind the words, in a way that's reminiscent of the young Carmen McRae.
Most of the fourteen selections were also arranged by the vocalist, and each is a gem. For example, if a singer ever "owned a song, Gambarini owns the standard "On the Sunny Side of the Street. She models her approach after Dizzy Gillespie's version on his 1957 Sunny Side Up recording, where he worked with the two Sonnys (Stitt and Rollins). Using scat syllables (and an occasional recognizable word), she easily maneuvers through the minefield of Stitt's intricate tenor sax flights. In an era when too many so-called jazz singers use scatting as a disposable display of technical accomplishment (rather than as a channel of communication), it is a delight to hear Gambarinithe real McCoy, the "scat's meow.
She often sings songs by Benny Carter, who was her mentor and friend. For this recording Gambarini included a very tender version of his "Only Trust Your Heart. Speaking of ballads, her merging of the two Gershwin "Porgy songs ("I's Your Woman and "I Loves You Porgy ), accompanied only by piano and the barest whisper of brushes, is sublime. Bill Evans' sad lament "Two Lonely People is seldom performed as a vocal, but Gambarini's six-minute version, accompanied by pianist Tamir Hendelman's elegant explorations, is a worthy addition to the small canon. James Moody's tenor and vocal on the bop anthem "Centerpiece is delightful; Gambarini's scat duet with Moody is priceless.
You can judge a singer by the accompanists she keeps, and Gambarini works with and keeps only the best. It just doesn't get any better than this: James Moody, Tamir Hendelman, Gerald Clayton, John Clayton, Chuck Berghofer, Willie Jones and Joe LaBarbera. This is a wonderful jazz vocal album.
Personnel: Roberta Gambarini: vocals; James Moody: tenor saxophone, vocals; Tamir Hendelman: piano;
Gerald Clayton: piano; John Clayton: bass; Dhuck Berghofer: bass; Willie Jones III: drums; Joe
La Barbera: drums