Friday, July 20, 2012

Roberta Gambarini and Hank Jones Were There

Roberta Gambarini certainly has come a long way in a few years since coming to the United States in 1998 from her native Italy. Within two weeks of her arrival, she was a finalist at the Thelonious Monk Competition, devoted to jazz vocalists that year along with Jane Monheit and Terry Thornton. Since then her career has slowly taken off, accelerating in more recent years after the release of her first American recording, Easy to Love, and now her major label debut with the great Hank Jones on Emarcy, You Are There. In the interim she has been nominated for a Grammy, selected by the Jazz Journalists Association as best female jazz vocalist and selected as Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in the Downbeat Critics Poll, while making acclaimed concert and festival appearances with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world including Roy Hargrove’s Big Band and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Orchestra.

Hank Jones and Roberta Gambarini at the 2007 Duke Ellington Jazz Festival
Roberta Gambarini possesses such a beautiful voice and if one can here some echoes of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, she has become such a marvelous singer in her own right. Her pitch perfect, her phrasing exquisite, her enunciation of the lyrics so magical. Between her delivery of the lyrics and her scatting her voice is another instrument. Backed by only Hank Jones’ piano, she takes us on at our of some of the great songs, such as Deep Purple, Just Squeeze Me, Lush Life and Stardust. She introduces us to lesser known gems like a Benny Carter song, When Lights Are Low, and a Gigi Gyrce and Jon Hendricks ballad, Reminiscing. Most interesting is Irving Berlin’s Suppertime, that is done in tribute to Ethel Waters who first sang this moving song in the musical revue, As Thousands Cheered. As Ms. Gambarini notes, this was “the first song to address the unspeakable evil of racial lynching.” The lyrics do not describe the strange fruit of southern tress, but rather the heartache of the wife and mother who knows her husband and the children’s father is not coming home. “I know I should set the table cause it’s Suppertime,” but is unable ‘because that man of mine ain’t coming home no more.” With Jones understated accompaniment here, this is simply a powerful performance.

Elsewhere Jones gets a number of opportunities to stretch out as on the Ellington classic, Just Squeeze Me. After his solo, she scats and then trades fours with him. The delight the two have making music together comes across throughout this recording that certainly will be among the most highly recorded vocal jazz recordings issued in the United States this year. Having the pleasure of having seen the two performing this past fall, this writer has been awaiting the US release of this 2005 recording session, and it has certainly been waiting for.

This was a purchase. Here is Roberta Gambarini and Hank Jones with a rhythm section performing.

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