Easy To Love
I first heard vocalist Roberta Gambarini perform a few years ago at the Jazz Standard in New York, soon after she arrived in America from Italy. It was clear even then that she had star potential and, as expected, she has now begun to take her place among the jazz greats, with nowhere to go but over the top. This debut CD is long overdue.
Gambarini has thorough command of a pure, clear soprano voice, perfect pitch, and a natural and intuitive grasp of jazz. Her timing and articulation are exquisite. That is why she has performed with, and garnered the support of, such significant musicians and groups as Hank Jones, James Moody, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band, and Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Quintet.
What is totally mind-blowing about Gambarini's singing is the way she does scat. You have to hear it to believe itshe improvises with an agility, virtuosity and nuance of phrasing that are beyond all expectation. If Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan had heard Gambarini, they might have felt the need to go back to music school. She is perhaps the first female vocalist so fully to build bebop and post-bop influences into her scatting. She sings like Charlie Parker played the alto saxwith a lightness, ease and mastery that is never strained, but at times achieving an intensity, not through volume or dramatic inflections, but in her musicality itself. In this respect, she is unique among even the greatest jazz singers, past or contemporary.
"On The Sunny Side Of The Street" is a good example of Gambarini's bebop-derived combination of scat and vocalese. Brief syllabic mentions of Sonny Stitt (get the pun to the tune's title?) and Dizzy tell us what the singer is up to. On "Lover Come Back To Me," on the other hand, she shows that she can outdo Vaughan and Fitzgerald when it comes to pre-bop, swinging scat.
The other tracks on the album do what those on a debut CD are supposed to doprovide examples of contrasting flavors and nuances. Gambarini's beautiful rendition of "Porgy, I's Your Woman Now/I Loves You Porgy," for instance, shows her lyrical expressiveness and emotional depth. "Only Trust Your Heart" shows how she can handle a cool bossa nova sound. In "The Two Lonely People" she delivers an existential blues commentary on modern alienation. Then there are standards such as "Lover Man" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" which prove her mettle with the Great American Songbook.
On "Centerpiece," James Moody joins Gambarini in trading scat choruses. At first it seems like Moody and his bizarre inflections will win the duel (he even has a stab at yodeling). But Gambarini adds some fireworks at the end which put Moody to shame.
Whether in person or on a recording, Gambarini carries herself with a genuineness and insouciance that can distract from awareness of what a vocal sensation she is. She offers a pleasant contrast to the ultra-stylized, intensely controlled singers we hear most from these days. Her persona reminds me of the Johnny Mercer tune, "When The World Was Young:" she tells us "where the stars were strung," when we all still had a touch of youthful innocence and spontaneity.
When listening to Roberta Gambarini, you will have to forgo the sophistication and minimalism of some other current singersbut if you do so, you'll find within her singing a treasure trove of honesty, precision and virtuosity. Simply put, Gambarini is a fabulous jazz singer, and this album does her prodigious talent proud.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: 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; Lover Come Back To Me; The Two Lonely People; 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 sax and vocals (3,8); Tamir Handelman: piano (1, 3-14); Gerald Clayton: piano (2); John Clayton: bass (2, 3, 5, 8, 11); Chuck Berghofer: bass (1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14); Willie Jones III: drums (1-3, 5, 8, 11, 14); Joe LaBarbera: drums (4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13).