Monday, February 7, 2022

How Hip Can You Be About "You"? The latest by Giacomo Gates.

You : Giacomo Gates : Savant SCD 2189

Baritone vocalist Giacomo Gates has just released his latest album You on the Savant label with an accomplished backing trio that includes the pianist Tim Ray, the bassist John Lockwood and the drummer Jim Lattini. Gates trained ear allows him to reinterpret music often overlooked or underappreciated by others. His inherent musicality and a unique hip approach to vocalizing lyrics allow this vocalist/storyteller to mine the hidden gold in the songs he chooses to sing. 

Gates has previously released albums that follow a theme, like his The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs of Gil Scott-Heron from 2011, Miles Tones: Giacomo Gates Sings the Music of Miles Davis from 2013, and What Time Is It from 2017. In each case Gates’ keen intuition to reimagine the thematic music shows how a tuned-in artist can expand one’s perception of the meaning of these classic compositions.  

On You, Gates has chosen eighteen different compositions, most under three minutes in duration, to weave the thematic essence of this album- songs that emphasize someone else, someone whose significance is animated by the singer’s delivery, someone who is familiar, one who the listener knows, or even someone like You.

Gates baritone is a warm, resonant instrument that he employs with an unpretentious sense of cool. His voice engulfs you with a revelation that this is a  knowing person. He has perceived wisdom in his voice that seems to come from a place where life has been lived and foibles have been experienced. Like a wizened sage who has been there and done that.

Gates sings the words of telling stories penned by songwriting team artists like Bob Russell and Duke Ellington, Ned Washington and Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen, Coleman Hawkins and Thelonius Monk, and even Lucky Thompson to name just a few. These are all well-worn compositions that have been visited by others before, but Gates’ delivery and the banter he creates inside this music offers a fresh perspective, a clarity to the listener about the nuances embedded in this music. Listen to Giacomo Gates singing and you're taking a course in life with Socrates or maybe more likely Lenny Bruce. To this, Gates vocal approach is a passing of the musical baton that he carries from some of his vocalist heroes like Babs Gonzales, Jon Henricks, Mark Murphy, and Eddie Jefferson.

Giacomo Gates (photo by R. Miriello)

The album opens with a swinging “Exactly Like You” and Gates weaves multiple songs into the jazz pastiche he creates including elements of Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” Michel Legrand’s “Watch What Happens,” and even Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema.” Only a musical history student like Gates can skillfully link into being these disparate approaches so seamlessly?

Storytelling is what this music is all about and Gates expertly personalizes his delivery on his improvised intro to “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” worth the price of admission by itself.

Check out the hip “With Plenty of Money and You” and dig the walking bass line from John Lockwood. There is always a knowing commentary in Gates' delivery, with his tongue-in-cheek humor that puts a smile on your face, he relates how bright love could be if only he had money.

The Ellingtonian “I Didn’t Know About You” is a classic torch ballad that Gates brands with his own brand of soul. Just wonderful to hear this song so well brought to life with just the right amount of sincerity.

If you appreciate the judiciously used skill of scatting (using the voice to imitate an improvising instrument like a saxophone) then check out Gates’ on “The Nearness of You.”  His voice flows like a slick skiff’s hull through a calm sea, seamless.

Another delight on this wonderful album is Billy Eckstine’s luscious “I Want to Talk About You,” with a beautiful piano solo by Tim Ray. The sensitive “PS I Love You” is a classic Johnny Mercer torch song that demonstrates just how deep Gates’ understanding is of the meaning behind the words of this love song. The swinging “Are You Havin' Any Fun” is just joyous fun. Mercer’s “I Remember You” is a Gates must hear, with some of the trio’s best in the groove moments, and don’t forget drummer Lattini’s deft use of the rim on this one. Don’t’ miss “Everything But You” and allow yourself to be transported to a Harlem nightclub back in jazzes hey day.  

“You’ve Changed” is the perfect vehicle for the raconteur Giacomo to speak to his audience, captivate them with his smoky voice, and relate an unspeakable intimacy that almost grabs you by the shoulders through the speakers. Listening to Giacomo is like sitting at a bar with him while he sings to you about his life’s woes. As personal as it gets. Don’t miss the whole band on “I’ve Got News for You” or some of Gates’ best blues on Lucky Thompson’s “You Never Miss the Water ‘Till the Well Runs Dry.”

I have to admit I am a big fan of Giacomo Gates. No other singer on the scene today comes close to him in his milieu. Like a cool breeze on your face as you stroll on a warm sandy beach, Gates singing on You is one of those treasures that epitomizes the simple but finer things in life. The compositions are classic, the delivery is hip, the sensitivity is poignant, or just plain fun. So sit back, put up your feet and enjoy this musical journey.

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