Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine!  View and download here in Acrobat: November 2014

Winning Spins By George Kanzler

top-left-Lewis-Nash-Steve-Wilson-Jazz-Gallery-page-10Famous pairings weave through jazz history, like Lady Day and Prez, and Diz and Bird. Some have even performed just as a duo: the smallest unit that allows for interaction as well as self-expression. These two Winning Spins are combos that include duo performances. Saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Lewis Nash, who have been appearing as a duo for more than a decade, present an album of duo, and two solo, tracks on their new CD. Trumpeter Brian Lynch and pianist Emmet Cohen collaborate on an album that features them in both duo and quartet formats.

Duologue, Steve Wilson and Lewis Nash (MCG), expands on the duet experience familiar from drummers trading fours (four-bar segments) with horns in ensembles to drum and horn interludes in big band charts. They create full renditions of tunes, many of them jazz standards, with just a saxophone and drums. A spirited outing, the CD brims over with buoyant, high-stepping exuberance with most tempos tending toward infectious swing.

A pair of vintage Ellingtonia classics, “Caravan” and “The Mooche,” kick off the album with exotic swagger, both featuring Wilson’s burnished soprano sax and prominent tom-toms from Nash, who employs his hands as well as sticks and brushes. “Caravan” shifts between undulating Afro-Caribbean toms on the main melody and driving 4/4 trap drums and cymbals on the bridge, then the two trade fours with Nash alternating between sticks and hands.

Thelonious Monk also gets a couple of tracks: both medleys of pairs of his tunes. “Bright Mississippi” and “Four In One” contrast fluttery soprano with brushes in the former and fast swinging soprano over brushes and hand drums on the latter. “Ask Me Now” finds Wilson limning the ballad on alto over rolling drums; then the two explore the staccato rhythms of “Evidence.”

With Wilson in his post-bop alto sax mode, the pair tackle the jangled, back-and-forth frame of Ornette Coleman’s “Happy House” and the swing of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ’N’ You” with the duo slipping easily in and out of rhythm and interactive dialogue as they so often do throughout the album. A brace of Wilson originals and a solo track each—Wilson on a 12-tone row; Nash parsing Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance”—round out this impressive and enjoyable album.

The Steve Wilson-Lewis Nash Duo appears at Jazz Gallery on Nov. 22.



Roberta Gambarini: The Spiritual Matrix of Jazz By Melody Breyer-Grell

RobertaRoberta Gambarini’s clear, lovely voice and her astonishing agility and range won her a spot in the finals of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Vocal Competition 16 years ago. That win earned her a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music, an honor she eventually had to relinquish since so much work started coming her way. This seems to be quite a fortunate outcome, since the Italian singer is of the school that believes the voice needs to be found on a physical level, before it can become educated. So her technical prowess on her “instrument” was not created by excessive pedagogy, but by a disciplined commitment to her natural instincts and great listening habits developed in childhood.

She was born of jazz loving parents, who provided her with a collection of the greats to listen to. “I was influenced early on by Louis Armstrong, of course, also Ella Fitzgerald who appeared on these recordings where they worked off each other all through. I heard the music of Count Basie, the blues singers Bessie Smith and Joe Williams, and I work with traditional Latin music, singing in Italian and Portuguese.”

A sampling of Gambarini’s CDs—Easy to Love, You Are There and So in Love shows her virtuosic command of the Great American Songbook: she never leaves the lyric lying in the dust. “When Cole Porter would write a lyric, it would have a certain rhythmic aspect to it, which led the composition towards its musical development.   I recently saw a program on Stephen Sondheim in which he made a similar description. Tempos and arrangements in songs change at times but are always led by the lyric. That is how I feel, as well.”

The hard-working vocalist has reached the goal that all jazz singers, no matter what their nationality, yearn for: to perform vocal jazz in a way that is inventive, yet deeply steeped in the tradition of bebop and blues, harkening back to the fountainhead of the art form. Her influences were a road map to the artist she has become. With her Mediterranean roots—her grandmother was Egyptian—she went on to explain how her background might have affected her and how singers around the globe are now being drawn to jazz.

“Due to several things, recording, the Internet and various other communications, people of many countries are accomplishing amazing things in jazz by studying and honoring the roots of this African American music—it’s like a Spiritual Matrix.”

As an example of the all-encompassing nature of that matrix, it should be noted that included in all the exotic textures Gambarini pulls from, sometimes there is an undeniable “Americaness” in the way she contours her songs. Although Gambarini has never copied anyone consciously, she did listen to the great Swing Era American big bands with their singers. Surprisingly to Gambarini, people have mentioned they heard a hint of the late American pop singer and drummer, Karen Carpenter, comparing the singers’ clarity of tone and purity of intent. In the scheme of things it makes perfect sense for that comparison to have occurred: even though Gambarini never listened to Carpenter, the American singer and talented drummer was very jazz influenced and grew up on the music of the Hi-Lo’s.

Gambarini shows a charming respect for her elders by using the prefix Master rather than Mister when discussing her musical friendships with drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianist George Cables or bassist Ray Drummond. She notes that in her privileged relationships, making music with these greats, she is offered the history of musical vocabulary and great freedom and space.

Next, she’ll be working with another elder statesman of jazz. “I am in the mixing stages of my upcoming CD at this very moment: the music of Jimmy Heath, the tenor saxophonist that I have been working with is being featured. Both Jimmy and I have put lyrics to his music, resulting with what can be called the Jimmy Heath Songbook, although the disk is not yet titled.”

The Roberta Gambarini Quintet performs at the Blue Note Nov. 28 through 30.