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Neapolitan Songstress in a Strong Debut Album
Jando Music 2012
Arriving with a heavy-hitting roster of class-A musicians as backup, Introducing Letizia Gambi has hit US shelves with almost no fanfare. And that's a shame, because you shouldn't miss hearing this auspicious debut. Letizia Gambi is a young Italian singer who was born Neapolitan but grew up partly in northern Italy. Her style is rooted in Neapolitan music, but she's eclectic, making musical excursions into jazz, pop, Björk, even Prince. She studied musical theater in England and has sung in West Side Story, and she earned a master's degree at Milan's International Jazz Academy.
For her debut album, she teamed up with producer Lenny White, who is also the fantastic drummer on every cut. White is famous for playing on Chick Corea's Return to Forever, and that's no doubt one reason we find Corea turning up as pianist on one of the cuts of Introducing Letizia Gambi. But the great keyboard playing doesn't end there -- you'll also find Pete Levin, Gil Goldstein, and Patrice Rushen on various tracks. Rushen does the lion's share of the playing, and it's always a pleasure to hear her interludes, played with finesse and imagination. Ron Carter on bass and Gato Barbieri on saxophone round out the jazz royalty on this disc.
There are strings, too, on almost every number. The whole affair could have become syrup, but miraculously the arrangements make for lush sound in the good sense. There's always perfect balance with the singer, and the instrumental solos are clear without having to be spotlighted. The bass, whether it's Carter or one of the other fine players used on several cuts, provides a solid foundation.
Gambi has a voice that can cajole or command, and she knows when to do which. The resulting vocals are truly beguiling, convincing a listener that she means every word she sings. Her pitch is perfect, her phrasing immaculate, and her diction, be it English or Italian, is exemplary. She is, in three words, a class act.
She reinvents Neapolitan favorites -- "Appocundria," "O Sole Mio," and "My Town (Carmela)," and for the opener, "Secret Tears (Una furtiva lagrima)," she adapts an aria by Donizetti. She also sings Björk's "Bachelorette," in which the arranger, Nicki Richards, finds a trace of Puccini! There are a lot of tangos and a generally appealing European sound to it all, with many bandoneón and accordion riffs.
As I listened to this voluptuous album unfold with its European flavor, I had a vision of Gambi singing the title song for an as-yet-unmade James Bond film. She would fit in perfectly with that international sense of mystery and elegance. This is an appealing debut disc that heralds great things to come.
Be sure to listen to: Prince's "The Question of U" is done as a tango and has to be one of the sexiest music cuts I've heard in a long time. Bass, drums, piano, guitar, and bandoneón set the stage for Gambi's sultry vocal, and Barbieri's scintillating sax takes it over the top.
. . . Rad Bennett