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Music Review: Roberta Gambarini – So In Love

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It’s no secret that many instrumentalists look down on those who ‘only’ sing, inferring that the human voice is somehow a less valid vehicle for musical expression than devices made of wood and wire and brass …

One listen to Roberta Gambarini’s So In Love should dispel any doubts about the artistry involved. Simply put, she’s a marvel, employing the most basic and organic of instruments – a voice as clear and pure as a summer day’s dawn – with stunning yet unaffected artistry that borders on brilliant.

It’s not that Italian-born, New York-based Gambarini indulges in vocal acrobatics or self-consciously ‘artsy’ posturing. But much like legends such as Ella and Sarah who refined the form through sheer vocal talent, she brings a winning warmth and utterly astonishing control to the table. On So In Love, her third recording, she applies that magnificent voice with unerring taste and unwavering musicality to a lovely collection of standards, with a few surprises for good measure.

On hand to help out are many of New York’s finest, with special guests including trumpeter Roy Hargrove and James Moody on sax. Gambarini herself arranged all but two of the tracks, showing a sure hand at crafting instrumental textures that provide superb but unobtrusive support for her glorious voice.

Material includes the familiar (“Day In, Day Out,” “That Old Black Magic,” “You Must Believe In Spring,” “Over The Rainbow”), along with the unexpected – a gossamer-light “Crazy” (yes, the Willie Nelson tune made famous by Patsy Cline) and a medley of Lennon and McCartney’s “Golden Slumbers/Here, There, And Everywhere.” The mood is primarily romantic, though Gambarini flexes her considerable vocal muscles on the bluesy “You Ain’t Nothing But A JAMF,” an original with music by the late Johnny Griffin and scat-dappled lyrics by Gambarini.

There’s no shortage of ballad-oriented and unabashedly romantic collections by attractive female singers, of course – it’s virtually a genre unto itself these days. Most are pleasant but leave little lasting impression. Gambarini’s So In Love, however, contains some genuine musical meat, and that remarkable voice is utterly sublime – as pure as it is, there’s a muscular depth there that gives even her most delicate phrasing an unusually rich yet satiny strength. Her phrasing respects the dignity of each ballad, but there’s an appealing playfulness in her scatting on the up-tempo numbers (“From This Moment On”) – showing her equally comfortable across the emotional spectrum.

A wonderful outing by a remarkable vocalist who wields an impressive instrument indeed, this one’s highly recommended!

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