March 2007

Roberta Gambarini
March 31, 2007 Live@Courthouse Toronto
An Enchanted Evening
by Paul J. Youngman with photos by Mike Colyer
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 and 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 some, he’s probably played with them, having been active on the scene since the late forties.
Roberta Gambarini
“When Lights Are Low” – sweet music, as the lyrics in this first song of the evening describe, was presented to the capacity audience in a lovely and loving manner by the vocalizing enchantress Roberta Gambarini 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 this new Toronto club, was eager for the musical treats to begin on this special night, the international premiere of Live@Courthouse.

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 — songs of love, anger, sadness, wonder and 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: Billy Strayhorn’s “Something To Live For” and “Lush Life”, Jobim’s “No More Blues” with lyrics by Jon Hendriks, Dizzy Gillespie's “The Sunny Side Of The Street”, Jerome Kerns' “Nobody Else But Me”, and Gershwin’s “I Love You Porgy” from the musical Porgy and Bess.

Some unusual selections were performed such as Raymond Hubbell’s 1916 “Poor Butterfly” from Madam Butterfly. Imagine — a solo introduction con passione, then, as the band joins Ms. Gambarini, she wonderfully sustains a note for a bar, allowing the music to develop with Mr. Hanna working on snare and brushes, Neil Swainson playing a walking, pulsating, sustained bass rhythm and Mr. Hendelman picking the nicest-sounding notes on the keyboard to complement the singer affetuoso.

Ms. Gambarini would perform a rousing blues by Chicago master tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, his “The JAMF’s Are Coming”. A 'good for a family show' definition of the acronym is Jolly American Musical Fellows, A more likely explanation of the title is that the tune is dedicated to all the Jive-ass MFs one meets in the jazz scene. During this song, pianist Tamir Hendelman played with high energy, showing himself to be 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 plays tremendous pizzicato – sul ponticello, actually took time to smile and possibly even laugh at Jake Hanna's antics.

Roberta Gambarini

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 high-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 title track 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 Blue,” and a smooth version of the classic “That Old Black Magic” were followed by nice renditions of “Crazy” and “Centrepiece.” It was a wonderful performance from a singer of tremendous talent. Gambarini makes it all look so easy and so natural. She is 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? Thank you for making it possible Live@Courthouse.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
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Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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