Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hip jazz for hip listeners

Giacomo Gates
Singer Giacomo Gates' wide-ranging musicality, humor and swing were on full display Saturday night at JD’s Bistro & Grille as he opened the Port Charlotte FL venue’s Jazz Masters series of special jazz events.

Gates fit the bill perfectly with his approach to jazz, including his instrument-like scatting and use of vocalese. The latter technique, popularized by Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and Oscar Brown Jr., puts lyrics to classic instrumental jazz solos that enable a singer like Gates to present a jazz standard with new dimensions.

Standout moments among the evening’s two-dozen songs: 

  • Gates’ jazz take on “No, Not Much,” a 1950s pop hit for the Canadian vocal quartet The Four Lads, in this case with his voice also taking a robust trombone solo.
  • The hippest version of “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” you’re likely to hear anywhere. His introductory segment put the song in context - and he delivered the lyrics with a speed befitting its era. Most singers tend to rush through this one – driving from Chicago to L.A. in a blur without savoring the landscape. Not Gates. (Later in the evening, he sang a clever but lesser-known Bobby Troup tune, “Hungry Man.”)
  • His melding of Irving Berlin’s standard “Blue Skies” with Thelonious Monk’s derivative “In Walked Bud,” the lyrics for the latter compliments of Jon Hendricks.
  • A take on Oliver Nelson’s classic jazz composition “Stolen Moments,” with the lyrics written by Gates.
  • Paying homage to his predecessors in the vocalese tradition, Gates included the first jazz vocalese tune ever recorded. “Moody’s Mood For Love” came to life when Eddie Jefferson wrote lyrics for James Moody’s saxophone solo to “I’m in the Mood for Love. It was first recorded by King Pleasure in 1954.
  • A take on “But Not For Me” that included longtime Chet Baker drummer Artt Frank’s lyrics written to Baker’s scat solo on the ballad.
  • Gates’ own lyrics to Paul Desmond’s alto sax solo on the Desmond-penned Dave Brubeck Quartet hit “Take Five.”
His band, featuring Mac Chrupcala on piano, Mark Neuenschwander on bass and Patricia Dean on drums, was in fine form all night, anticipating every one of the singer’s twists and turns, and adding much to the talented spirit of the two-show evening. Dean joined Gates on vocals on two tracks – one each show – “All of Me” and “”Bye Bye Blackbird.” The latter featured overlapping vocals by the pair, as well as a vocalized bass solo from Gates. On other tunes, Gates also emulated the drums and a harsh wind to great effect, often trading four-bar phrases with his band mates.
The Connecticut-based singer found an instant rapport with his Port Charlotte audience. He has been plying his jazz vocal craft since the early 1990s (and won the Rising Star Male Vocalist category in DownBeat’s 2012 Critics Poll). This former heavy-construction worker spent a dozen years working in Alaska, three of them helping build the Alaskan Pipeline. “I’m still trying to thaw out,” he mused.

JD’s new Jazz Masters series is designed to bring select, formidable talents from outside the region to the its audience base a few times a year, expanding beyond the local talents the venue presents five nights a week. The standing ovations that Gates & Co. received at the end of each show showed that there’s an appreciation for this strategy.

Mac Chrupcala, Giacomo Gates, Mark Neuenschwander, Patricia Dean

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