Big Band Lovers

REVIEW by Willard Manus
Big band jazz may be marginalized in today's musical world, but it's not dead, not when topflight musicians team up with a brilliant young singer and turn out a CD such as PRATT BROTHERS BIG BAND (Featuring Roberta Gambarini).

Trumpeter Dean Pratt and drummer Michael Pratt were stalwarts with the Buddy Rich Band back in the 60s, and while they have gone on to play other kinds of jazz over the years, in their heart of hearts they still love the big-band sound and fury. As Dean says in his liner notes, he is determined to keep the "great tradition alive," even if it's being played in a musical vacuum.

"OK, I admit that taste in music is somewhat relative," he continues. ""What swings for one puts another to sleep. But what, in my opinion, is not relative, and never will be, is bad time, bad phrasing, bad tone and bad pitch. No amount of background strings and artful lighting is going to morph Tiny Tim into Miles Davis. Funny, most of us used to be able to hear the difference between the two, and weren't afraid to admit it. Well, enough, for now. Meanwhile, all my sincerest thanks go out to those few, brave, time-perfect and in-tune souls who, ignoring mainstream, heavily subsidized trends, continue to create the music we all used to love--real music, produced by fully clothed Emperors and Empresses of jazz."

There's lots of real music on BIG BAND, which features such musicians as Wayne Coniglio, Ronnie Matthews, Joe Mosello and Alan Gauvin, plus the arrangements of Michael Abene, Rich Shemaria and Don Piestrup, all vets of the Buddy Rich/Count Basie era. As good as their work is, though, they are topped by the vocalist Robert Gambarini, who sings on four of the ten cuts. Born in Italy into a jazz-loving family, Roberta began singing in her teens, then emigrated to the USA. Dean Pratt discovered her when she competed in the 1998 Thelonius Monk vocal competition and he was struck by her many gifts. "She can swing, has impeccable time, possesses an instrument of lyrical beauty, and scats not only with originality but makes the changes, too," he says.

His praise isn't effusive or unjustified. As evidenced by her work on BIG BAND, Gambarini is a jazz singer to be reckoned with, one of the finest voices to be heard today. Her rendering of Hoagy Carmichael's Skylark, for example, is exquisite--she starts the ballad off slowly, goes a capella, then starts to swing and scat, finishing rousingly with the whole band behind her.

She is equally virtuosic on her other numbers--such as Cup of Life and East of the Sun--inspiring the band to match her note for remarkable note. This is truly big band music at its freshest and best. As for those who refuse to listen to it, all one can say is that it's your loss--a big one.

(Consolidated Artists Productions, 200 Riverside Drive, # 11-D, NY, NY 10025)