Easy to Love (Groovin’High)
Released June 6, 2006
Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2007
Singer Roberta Gambarini tackles standards with a blend of virtuosity and fluid grace on Easy to Love (Groovin’ High/Kindred Rhythm). For those who have followed and admired the Italian-born, New York City-based vocalist, the question is: What took so long for her to record an album?
“I’ve wanted to do certain things, and not others,” she says at the Bern Jazz Festival where she was appearing with James Moody’s band. “It’s a luxury to be able to do exactly what you want nowadays. You have to pay a price for it, I guess. It took a long time to find the right way to put it out, and the right moment.”
The delay was partly due to her insistence on making the Easy to Love purely jazz, without pop leanings, and not a concept album, which is so common in today’s jazz record industry.
The album was recorded in 2004 and released in Japan in late 2005, where it won Swing Journal’s best jazz-vocal CD award. No wonder: Gambarini shows luminous maturity in handling such standards as the title track, a medley of Porgy and Bess tunes and the Thelonious Monk homage “Monk’s Prayer/Looking Back.” She also flexes impressive scatting chops on “The Sunny Side of the Street” (a vocalese treatment of solos by Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie) and “Centerpiece” (with Moody making a cameo).
Scatting, Gambarini says, is “a natural disposition. It’s like the color of your hair. Either you like it or you don’t. If it doesn’t come natural, why do it? Some of the great singers in history never scatted. But if it does come naturally, it’s a sheer pleasure. It takes a lot of work, because you have to study the fundamentals of music and know how to play an instrument, too.”
A piano player who also studied composition, Gambarini is obviously well-grounded in music. She says that as a two-year-old in Torino, Italy, she started soaking up the sounds of her parents’ record collection-especially Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Launching her professional music career at 17, Gambarini made a strong impression on the Italian scene.
Realizing she needed to move to America to take her career to the next level, she arrived in New York City in 1998 with $300 to her name. But soon after Gambarini won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory and then third place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition.
Gambarini’s journey continues onward and upward. She will be featured on a Telarc album by the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, slated for a fall release, and has already recorded her own follow-up album, with eminent pianist Hank Jones. Working with Jones, she says, has been “a life-changing point. He’s humble, but when he plays, magically, it’s like there is a sound that depends on the touch that is only his. When he lays his hands on the piano, my ears immediately recognize that as being him. You feel immediately drawn to listen to what he does.”
Among her future aspirations, Gambarini says she wants “to have more time to dedicate to the piano and to writing, which I used to do a lot of when I was in Italy. The [sense of] displacement in this new country was traumatic in the beginning, and all the touring and entering the rat race. When things calm down a little bit, I intend to go back to writing and arranging.”
Josef Woodard (JazzTimes)
1. Easy to Love (Cole Porter) 4:48
2. Only Trust Your Heart (Benny Carter / Sammy Cahn) 4:11
3. Lover Man (Jimmy Davis, Jimmy Sherman / Roger Ramirez) 5:59
4. On the Sunny Side of the Street (Dorothy Fields / Jimmy McHugh) 5:39
5. Porgy, I’s Your Woman Now/I Loves You, Porgy (Dubose Heyward / George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) 7:25
6. Lover Come Back to Me (Oscar Hammerstein / Sigmund Romberg) 5:44
7. The Two Lonely People (Bill Evans / Carol Hall) 6:13
8. Centerpiece (Harry Edison / Jon Hendricks) 5:21
9. Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry (Jule Styne / Sammy Cahn) 6:00
10. No More Blues (Antonio Carlos Jobim / Jon Hendricks) 3:13
11. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes/All the Things You Are (Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein / Otto Harbach) 5:53
12. Too Late Now (Al Lerner / Burton Lane) 5:10
13. Multi-Colored Blue (Billy Strayhorn) 6:30
14. Monk’s Prayer/Looking Back (Jon Hendricks / Thelonious Monk) 5:24
Roberta Gambarini: vocals
James Moody: tenor sax and vocals (3,8)
Tamir Handelman: piano (1, 3-14)
Gerald Clayton: piano (2)
John Clayton: bass (2, 3, 5, 8, 11)
Chuck Berghofer: bass (1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14)
Willie Jones III: drums (1-3, 5, 8, 11, 14)
Joe LaBarbera: drums (4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13)
Recorded June 18 – 19, 2004, at Capitol Studio A, LA
Producer: Larry Clothier
Recorded & Mixed by Al Schmitt
Mastered by Robert Hadley and Doug Sax
Art Direction: Marsh Clothier
Executive Producer: Jacques Muyal
Roberta Gambarini was a virtual unknown outside of Europe before coming to the United States and dazzling both seasoned jazz musicians and critics alike. Under the wing of Benny Carter for several years prior to his death in 2003, the Italian singer with an expressive, clear, and consistently swinging vocal style has seen her reputation spread widely, culminating in this initial American release. Her delightful take on the standard “Easy to Love” includes a bit of soft scatting in tandem with Chuck Berghofer’s bass. Her expressive interpretation of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” finds her scatting to each of the demanding solos from a recorded collaboration by Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Rollins, as well as adding some original vocalese to each of the solos. She is just as effective handling Bill Evans’ bittersweet ballad “The Two Lonely People” and Billy Strayhorn’s overlooked gem “Multi-Colored Blue.” Tenor saxophonist James Moody is a special guest on “Lover Man” and the swinging “Centerpiece,” on the latter playing in unison with Gambarini and engaging in a friendly, often hilarious scat duet with her as well. With this first-rate 2006 release, Roberta Gambarini makes a strong case for consideration as one of the most impressive jazz vocalists to arrive on the scene over the previous two decades; her attractive voice, impeccable taste, and skills as an arranger make her impossible to resist.
Ken Dryden (Allmusic)