Saturday, September 05, 2009

Discs of the Day: Roberta Gambarini, James Moody

To paraphrase Paul McCartney, what's wrong with silly love songs?

Nothing at all when they're sung with as much passion and grace and artistic commitment as Robert Gambarini demonstrates on So in Love (Decca), the third major studio release from the acclaimed jazz singer.

Gambarini, born in Turin, Italy but based in the U.S. since 1998, takes on love, silly and otherwise, throughout this standards-heavy program on which she's joined by jazz elder statesman James Moody on saxophone, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and rhythm sections variously featuring rising-star pianist Gerald Clayton, bassists George Mraz and Neil Swainson, and drummers Al Foster and Jeff Hamilton (among others).

Speaking of Sir Paul, Gambarini applies her intuitive interpretive skills to a Beatles medley linking a gorgeously laidback "Golden Slumbers" to "Here, There and Everywhere"; both pieces are invigorated with surprising, rich chord substitutions.

Similarly, she brings out all the poignancy of Willie Nelson's "Crazy," rethinking a song popularized by the great Patsy Cline. Here, Gambarini's clear-as-a-bell voice elongates phrases and sinks deep into these lyrics of regret; Hargrove offers gorgeous counterpoint.

Gambarini salutes Cole Porter, one of her favorite composers, with a hushed, intimate version of the title track, on which she's backed only by piano; a mid-tempo "Get Out of Town," which benefits from Moody's tenor ministrations; and a zippy "From This Moment On," featuring a dazzling round of scatting.

Throwaways? I couldn't find any, just assured performances and lively arrangements of familiar gems, including bossa nova classic "Estate," "You Must Believe in Spring" and even "Over the Rainbow."

Heard the talk about Gambarini, how she's THE female jazz singer to watch this year, this decade? Believe the hype.


James Moody has been on the scene since the birth of bebop and, at 84, his prodigious gifts as an improviser seem hardly diminished. For the eight familiar gems heard on 4A (IPO), he's joined by regular colleague Todd Coolman on bass plus pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Lewis Nash for a set of exemplary straight-ahead jazz.

Among the disc's highlights: a heartfelt "'Round Midnight," a very pretty "East of the Sun," a snappy take on Benny Golson's "Stablemates," showcasing Coolman's inventive soloing, and a sneaky waltz-time redesign of "Bye Bye Blackbird."

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