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An Enchanted Evening

Roberta Gambarini, New York based, Italian born and raised, has firmly established herself as one of the best jazz vocalists of our time. Just my opinion, no, this is the voice of many, including jazz legend, renowned drummer Jake Hanna. When I asked Mr. Hanna his feelings on playing with Roberta Gambarini, he replied without hesitation, "She is one of the best, and I have played with all the greats." This is no understatement, having played with vocalists from Billy Holiday to Tony Bennett, and instrumentalists, just name one, he’s probably played with them, having been active on the scene since the late forties.

"When Lights Are Low," Sweet music as the lyrics in the first song of the evening describe, presented to the capacity audience in a lovely and lovingly manner by this vocalizing enchantress and her equally enchanting trio. The trio comprised of Tamir Hendelman (piano), Jake Hanna (drum and cymbals) and Neil Swainson (bass), arrived early to a warm reception, the audience thoroughly enchanted with the ambiance of the new Toronto club, majestically historical as befitting a superior jazz venue, were eager for the musical treats to begin, the international premier of the house of jazz.

All great vocalists exude personality in their singing, they have special traits, sounds and styles to call their own. Ms. Gambarini has a style all her own, she has borrowed from those who came before her but she has an incredible command of her instrument, control that allows her to play in just about any range with the utmost confidence. A singer of tremendous passion, with a range of emotions as diverse as the songs that she sings, love songs, the blues, anger, sadness, the wonder and the joy, grand amounts of joy thankfully and a sense of humour that comes across in her easy going nature.

The first set took the crowd on a musical journey through some classics, from Billy Strayhorn’, "Something To Live For," and "Lush Life," Jobim’s, "No More Blues" with lyrics by Jon Hendriks, "The Sunny Side Of The Street" by Dizzy Gillespie, "Nobody Else But Me" from Jerome Kerns, and Gershwin’s "I Love You Porgy" from the musical Porgy and Bess.

Some interesting selections were performed, from Madam Butterfly, Raymond Hubbell’s 1916 "Poor Butterfly" - a solo introduction con passione, as the band joins Ms. Gambarini she wonderfully sustains a note for a bar, allowing the band to come on, Mr. Hanna on snare and brushes, Neil Swainson with a walking, pulsating, sustained bass rhythm and Mr. Hendelman, picking the nicest sounding notes on the keyboard to compliment the singer affetuoso.

Ms. Gambarini would perform a rousing blues by Chicago, master tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin’s, the tune "The JAMF’s Are Coming" one definition I know of, good for a family show, (Jolly American Musical Fellows), I think not, more likely dedicated to all the Jive-ass MF’s one meets in the jazz scene. During this song pianist; Tamir Hendelman played with a high energy spirit, a wonderful accompanist and quite capable when called upon to lead or fill in with intricate rapid fire runs, arpeggios, syncopated full chords and all the while swinging with an Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson solo minded attack, prompting the audience to applaud his skilful display.

Not to be out done, Neil Swainson who generally appears to be focusing on the science of quantum physics, such is his serious demeanour, while he lays down solid bass lines, fantastic harmonic fills, syncopated arpeggios, in the style of a Flamenco guitarist or his tremendous pizzicato playing - sul ponticello, actually took time to smile and possibly even laugh at the antics of jazz master Jake Hanna.

Master drummer Jake Hanna is going back in time to create a wall of percussive authority utilizing a minimalist touch of extreme refinement, good taste and a wealth of rhythmic intelligence. The drum set this evening consisted of a snare, a bass drum and pedal, a hi-hat and two cymbals, nothing special. From his opening introduction and solo with brushes, (he is one of the best brush masters - living or dead) he would effortlessly play a swinging sixteen bar fill with a delicate touch, dynamics of excitement, intricate patterns and rudiments. Later into the set, he would perform a cymbal solo, just high-hat and his two cymbals, absolutely sensational from the standpoint of simplicity, delicacy and polyrhythmic beauty.

The second set started with "Easy To Love" the name of Roberta Gambarini’s most recent Grammy nominated album, followed by "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" with an introduction of piano and vocal. An incredibly exciting version of "It Don’t Mean A Thing." An elegant version of "Estate" sung in Italian, with a trumpet break care of Ms. Gambarini, her trumpet style, a form of scatting, classical trumpet, clean and fluid, reminded me of Mr. W. Marsalis. A little more Strayhorn music, "Multi Coloured BPassionlue," a smooth version of the classic, "That Old Black Magic," and followed by nice renditions of "Crazy" and "Centrepiece." A wonderful performance from a singer of tremendous talent, she makes it all look so easy, a natural, a gifted treasure with a beautiful voice.

The night was perfect, a great jazz club, excellent sound, superb entertainment, good friends, good food and drink, a courtly affair, an enchanted evening. What more could one ask for? Thank you for making it possible Live @ Courthouse.

Report by Paul J. Youngman - KJA Jazz Advocate - Originally featured at The Live Music Report

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Roberta Gambarini
  • Subtitle: Roberta Gambarini Live@Courthouse • Toronto
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