The English translation of the title of alto saxophonist Gil Spitzer's debut is Speak Sweet, which is a reference to the dulcet toned saxophonists that inspired him growing including Stan Getz, Paul Desmond and Johnny Hodges. He also cites the influence of Nat King Cole's vocals as another influence. Throughout this marvelous recording one gets impressed by his own feathery lyricism and the dry martini tone (characteristic of Desmond) as well as the superb backing band behind him that includes the Brazilian bassist and producer of this session, Nilson Matta. Matta Matta assembled a like-minded crew of Brazilian compatriots — guitarist Chico Pinheiro, drummer Mauricio Zottarelli and percussionist Fernando Saci — to provide an authentic vibe on several alluring bossa novas, as well as as a number of standards.
Matta met Spitzer at his Samba Meets Jazz Summer Music Camp in Bar Harbor, Maine and the friendship deepened when the bassist invited Spitzer to an international SMJ camp in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Taken by the altoist’s sound, Matta later invited him to sit in with his group on gigs at Birdland back in New York City. “He’s got that lyrical thing, which is very charming,” said the bassist of Spitzer, “and also nice tone, great taste. He embraces all of those things and he plays with a lot of spirit.” Also on several selections is tenor saxophonist Harry Allen who was a guest faculty member at Matta’s SMJ camp. Listening to this, one will be astonished that Spitzer is debuting on a recording at the age of 75, but as Matta states, his debut recording at the age of 75. But as Matta, says of Spitzer, “You don’t have to be any certain age to play music. Anytime is about time.”
This is such a delightful album starting with the opening swing of "Angel Eyes" with melodic magic from Spitzer along with a delightful piano solo from Julian Shore (who also arranged strings for several selections), and the first of a number of marvelous solos from guitarist Pinheiro. There is a Getz spirit in Spitzer's playing on a light bossa rendition of "Embraceable You," with a nifty guitar solo while bassist Matta and the rest of the rhythm provide sure backing. Spitzer's only original, "Blues For Harry A." has Shore on piano as the two saxophonists display their lyrical magic and distinctive sounds (Allen has a much harder attack compared to the dry-martini, feathery playing from Spitzer). The two also are heard together on an easy going Hank Mobley hard bop number, "This I Dig of You," and "Early Autumn," a wonderful ballad performance.
Strings help create an atmosphere for Spitzer's sublime treatment of the Ray Noble classic, "The Very Thought of You," and then there is a most appealing rendition fo Paul Desmond's "Bossa Antigua," with some wonderful guitar from Pinheiro. The rhythm duo of Matta and Zottarelli shine here as well as Matta's "This Is For Luisa," with more exquisite sax, guitar (and piano on the latter number). Nat King Cole is among those famous for his rendition of "Nature Boy," and set against a string quartet setting, Spitzer produces another sublime performance. Other songs interpreted include an engaging Jobim's "Triste" and a most appealing reading of Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance."
The opening of the string arrangement for Sonny Rollins' "Valse Hot," alludes to "Over the Rainbow," before this effervescent rendition of this jazz waltz. It is a wonderful close to a delightful and superb recording.
I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a short clip of Gil Spitzer playing.