Roberta Gambarini: Easy to Love (2006)
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.
Track Listing: Easy to Love, Only Trust Your Heart, Lover Man, On the Sunny Side of the Street, Porgy, I's Your Woman Now/I Loves You Porgy, Centerpiece, Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, No More Blues, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes/All the Things You Are, Too Late Now, Multi-Colored Blue, Monk's Prayer/Looking Back
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
Record Label: KOCH International Jazz