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Giacomo Gates: What Time Is It?

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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2:02.75. That might have been what longshot "Giacomo" (at 50-1) took to win the Kentucky Derby back in 2005. However, it will take longer—just short of an hour—to realize that this thoroughbred Giacomo rides home a winner with What Time Is It?. Hold the oats and roses and grab the ear buds.

Giacomo Gates, the consummate Hipster's Hipster, carries the Bop-Scat-Vocalese torch superbly here—one carried previously by greats Babs Gonzales King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, Oscar Brown Jr. and its High Priest, Jon Hendricks—over 11 word-intensive selections, each of which is a gem.

A resonant, rich-with-an-edge baritone, Gates covers the ersatz title tune, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," following a slick, tickety-tockety-supported talk-over. From this easy-swinging starting gate, Gates shows he's a pure jazz singer whose own time-sense, phrasing, and lyric expression are as genuine as they are substantial. He's in command musically throughout and dispenses no horse-hockey in doing so. He's also brazenly gifted—he covers the old 1950s Rays hit, "Silhouettes," as a light, strollin' swinger in which Gates—demonstrating a knack for singing a story—and his crew show that they can make something rich and tasteful out of window shades, shadows, and innocent love.

Joined by fine sax man Jerry Weldon (who offers tasty solos throughout the album) and backed by a very swinging and involved rhythm unit, Gates channels Oscar Brown, Jr. twice with a solid send-up of the sopped-up tale of a lush life, "Somebody Buy Me a Drink" and the devilish, "Mr. Kicks." It's in this genre—and also on Artt Frank's "A Few Bucks Ahead" and on the "Lady Be Good" contrafact, "Disappointed"—where his words are hip, pungent, and seasoned with soul. There's no lovey-dovey here, but genuine, certainly Post Office Bulletin Board-worthy badass jazz singing.

On the straight-ahead burner (and arguably the album's highlight piece), "In Cognito," Gates swings heavy over Tom Robbins' Beat-inspired poetry. Pianist John di Martino, guitarist, Tony Lombardozzi, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer Vincent Ector cook and let you know they're the gassers in that fire. The tune, a Gates original melody, was recently featured over the closing credits of actor Chris Cordone's celebrated film, Stevie D. On Betty Carter's "I Can't Help It" Gates extracts every ounce of the sweet rhy-thm-ic juice from melody and lyric. The talk-over closer, "Too Many Things" ties a thought-provoking, philosophical bow on the enjoyable session.

With Mark Murphy departed for gigs in the Upper Room and so many male vocalists leaning safe, smooth-looking, and saccharine, What Time Is It? firmly establishes that now's the time that Giacomo Gates emerges as the odds-on favorite as the Hipster Supreme sent to deliver the Word. And, that Word is "winner," as in Giacomo—both man and horse. Bet on it.

Track Listing: I Didn’t Know What Time It Was; On a Misty Night; Somebody Buy Me a Drink; Silhouettes; In Cognito; Mr. Kicks; A Few Bucks Ahead; I Can’t Help It; Disappointed; Spinnin’ (Speedball); Too Many Things.

Personnel: Giacomo Gates: vocals; Jerry Weldon: tenor saxophone; John Di Martino: piano; Tony Lombardozzi: guitar; Lonnie Plaxico: bass; Vincent Ector: drums.

Title: What Time Is It? | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Savant Records

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