This being the case it is perhaps remarkable that Gambarini grew up in Europe. She was born in Torino, Italy, into a family that loved music, especially jazz, so she was exposed to the music from an early age. Beginning with clarinet lessons at twelve years old, she began singing by age 17 and was performing in jazz clubs around Northern Italy by the following year, moving to Milan to pursue a career as a jazz singer. Having performed throughout Italy with growing success, Gambarini moved to the United States in 1998 to take up a scholarship at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Two weeks later she scored a third place finish in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition. Since then, she has performed with Michael Brecker, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Slide Hampton, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Heath, Hank Jones, Christian McBride, and Toots Thielemans, amongst others, and has performed at Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Town Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall, as well as major jazz festivals around the world.
One result of Roberta's move to the US has been contractual complications that have prevented her recording until now. This is a blessing in disguise, as she is now issuing her first album as an established artist rather than a newcomer. This is evident from her poise, and her assured delivery of these songs. Her choice of material is immaculate. She strikes an exemplary balance between jazz standards and classic songs, between wistful, tender ballad renditions ("Only Trust Your Heart," "Two Lonely People," "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry," "Too Late Now") and some extraordinary scatting ("On The Sunny Side Of The Street," "Lover Come Back To Me," and "Centerpiece," on which she is joined by James Moody.) Her jazz smarts emerge when she places lyrics by herself or Jon Hendricks to transcribed solos by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins, or when she selects pieces by Benny Carter ("Only Trust . . .") Bill Evans ("Two Lonely People") Billy Strayhorn ("Multi-Colored Blue") or Thelonius Monk ("Monk's Prayer/Looking Back".) Her way with standards is there for all to see as she makes "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes/All The Things You Are" fresh once again.
Along with the material her choice of accompanists is also impeccable. Tamir Hendelman in particular plays with exquisite touch and rhythmic incisiveness as needed, the rhythm teams are right there, and what can you say about James Moody? The fact that he was willing to drive to L.A. just to appear on two tracks says a lot about him and even more about his regard for Roberta.
Whether or not Gambarini is the true successor to Ella and Sarah remains to be seen, with all due respect to Betty Carter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, et.al. But two things are clear. One--jazz is truly a universal language--Roberta is from Italy, Tamir from Israel. Two--Roberta Gambarini is the real deal. If you like vocal jazz get this recordÃ¯Â¿Â½it's that simple!