Responding to Roberta Gambarini‘s first album Easy To Love, Hank Jones declared that the Turin-born vocalist who has lived in New York since 1998, was “the best jazz singer to come along in fifty years.” That album handled Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins solos in their original keys, with outstanding accuracy, and showcasing her three octave range.
Gambarini and her quartet were at Ronnie Scott’s earlier this week, and attended the first of two nights. She started each set with a solo piece followed by an intro with the drummer, before the rest of the band joined in. I was surprised that she stuck to the same formula to begin both sets (I actually wondered whether she thought it was a different house, but when she spoke to us this clearly wasn’t the case).
But no complaints: Gambarini singing solo was perfection in pitch, control and dynamics. Her vocal acrobatics were breath-taking (at its height, she eased up to a top B with striking accuracy and tone, and at its lowest was resonating with a rich bottom E), but what impressed me the most was her utter control and pianissimo phrases, qualities that some singers bypass in favour of impressive volume and fast phrasing. The other stand-out feature of Gambarini’s singing is her accuracy and speed of scatting. She has a distinctly European style, with a lot of consonant-less sounds, but some incredible licks and phrases.
Gambarini showcased her love of Brazilian music with a tasteful Chega de Saudade (Jobim) , and a beautiful Estate (Bruno Martino) . During this song, she performed a solo on the mouth trumpet, or rather mouth flugelhorn. It was outstanding – the best I’ve heard – particularly as many singers who attempt this turn it into a novelty feature of a song. But this was passionate and artistic, and fitted the mood perfectly. Gambarini does has played the clarinet to high standard
The program was interesting and varied, including both popular and obscure standards – Day In Day Out, When Lights Are Low, Lush Life, and a blues head by Johnny Griffin called The Jamfs Are Coming. “Jamfs,” said Gambarini “is an acronym. The J stands for jive; the M for mother. …. I won’t explain the rest.”
Gambarini’s career has worked with plenty of stars. She performed her own vocalise of On The Sunny Side Of The Street, a tribute to “my friend James Moody,” and affectionately referred to Dizzy Gillespie as “Dizz,” while taking about work inspired by him.
The band for the evening were Sullivan Fortner on piano, bassist Amine Salim, and Montess Coleman at the drums. They each got very long introductions owing to the fact that they had all “played with everybody!” There were some moments of brilliance, although I did get the impression that they may not have played with Gambarini much – it took them until the second set to really settle down.