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Christian Tamburr

Another Reason to Celebrate By Elzy Kolb

See, hear

Visiting a sculpture garden in a bucolic setting sent Christian Tamburr in an unexpected new musical direction. While wandering through the 42-acre Grounds for Sculpture, near Princeton, NJ, the vibraphonist and composer enjoyed discovering artistic works tucked into the verdant foliage, with pieces by Seward Johnson making a particular impression.

“You walk through the park and stumble into a moment—it was so real, like a photo frozen in real life, like a frame from a movie,” he recalls. Christian found himself imagining what the soundtrack would sound like, if the striking artistic scenes actually were in a movie. “I looked at the sculpture, and each one sounded different to me. I thought, I’m at Grounds for Sculpture, and I’m creating sounds for sculpture.” That flash of a concept becomes reality in his upcoming album, The Awakening: Sounds for Sculpture, with each of the 11 compositions on the recording inspired by and named after a Seward Johnson sculpture.

Connecting the aural with the visual is not entirely new for the North Carolina-based musician. Though jazz is his deepest and most enduring musical love, “In the past 10 years, I’ve been working more in theater, Cirque du Soliel, productions with a lot of physical activity on stage. Writing music to accompany it gives you a new way of looking at it,” he explains. The sculpture-inspired project “felt like scoring music or a theatrical production. When I walked up to it, what did I see? That moment, that fairy tale, whatever I felt about what was depicted—that was the starting point for me.”

The CD takes its name from The Awakening, a 70-foot-long bronze figure that appears to be in the process of bursting out of the earth after a long burial. “What is the story? Is it a god, a monster, a symbol of the human struggle? Like all art, it’s for your own interpretation,” Christian muses. “For me, he was frozen and has now awakened. That’s the sculpture that made this whole thing happen.”

After seeing the art in 2017, getting permission to use the titles of the sculptures as well as the images took a while. In the meantime, Christian moved cross-country from his previous home base in Las Vegas, toured with a variety of ensembles, and dealt with the reality of day-to-day life.

“It’s funny how inspiration comes in different ways,” he notes. “I was looking and trying to interpret my view of the pieces. I always knew how it would sound, I just had to find time to get it down once the kids were in bed.” He composed the material between November 2018 and June 2019, and headed into the studio immediately afterward.

The world premiere of The Awakening: Sounds for Sculpture takes place at Dizzy’s August 16-18. Joining Christian on the bandstand are pianist Scott Giddens, trumpeter Linda Briceño, bassist Paul Creel, drummer John Davis, and percussionists Keita Ogawa and Michael Dobson; vocalist Clint Holmes makes a special guest appearance.

Appropriately enough, there will be visual elements to the prerelease gig, including projected images of the art. Prerelease copies of the self-produced CD are available at the gig; the official release date is set for early 2020.

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Kalia Vandever

Hot Flashes By Seton Hawkins

Artists Talk Albums: Kalia Vandever

We might not immediately nominate the trombone as the lead melody instrument in a jazz quartet. However, In Bloom, the debut album of trombonist and composer Kalia Vandever not only makes a compelling case for the format, it also documents the rise of an exciting new voice for the music.

Drawing on four years’ worth of compositional material and fronting a stellar quartet (occasionally quintet) on the album, Kalia puts forth a gorgeously lyrical vision for the music, highlighting both her tremendous instrumental facility and a highly melodic compositional voice. “I felt like I had finally settled into my identity as a musician and composer, something true to who I am,” she explains. “The songs reflect that, and it was important to me to document them.”

Indeed, her instinct seems spot-on: While many jazz albums feature minimal attention to written material in favor of extended blowing sessions, In Bloom offers an alternative, one in which tremendous care and thought went into shaping beautiful melodies. While Kalia’s voice as a soloist is highly engaging, her voice as a composer is equally crucial, as the album travels from the groove-driven ostinato work of the title track to the beautiful, delicate melody of “Amethyst.” “I’m influenced by a lot of different genres, but when I write and improvise, I’m mostly thinking of strong melodies,” Kalia notes. “They usually come to me by singing, sitting at the piano and singing over it.”

With the closing track on the album, “Seeing Less,” we hear that approach presented more openly, as Kalia starts out with a wordless vocal take on a haunting melody, backed in duet by guitar. An intriguing coda to In Bloom, “Seeing Less” also gives a hint of projects to come.  “It’s one of the later compositions I wrote,” she explains. “It’s one direction I’m going in, compositionally. I’m developing a solo project and introducing more solo work into my performances, which feature solo trombone with effects. I’m going to add voice to that, and I’m hoping to sing more.”

At the Jazz Gallery August 17, Kalia celebrates the album’s release with a performance featuring repertoire from In Bloom. However, with a nod to the developing project, solo trombone works also serve as interludes between the pieces, giving listeners an opportunity to hear this emerging stage in Kalia’s trajectory. For those looking for a remarkable new voice in the music, the evening is not one to be missed.

To learn more about Kalia Vandever, visit www.kaliavandever.com.

Photo Credit:   Liv Ryan

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Giacomo Gates

Giacomo Gates Digs Jazz By George Kanzler

On his new CD, G8s, a four-song EP of recordings from 2005, Giacomo Gates delivers an original, “A Different Thing,” that is an encapsulation of his art. In it, he asserts his right to sit in with jazz musicians, because he digs the music and can express it as well with his instrument, his voice, as the others do with theirs. And have fun doing it.

“I used to sing all the time,” Giacomo says from his home in Connecticut. “I sang for the fun of it, never pursued the music business until I was in my late 30s [late 1980s], but I’m still a fan of that music I sang from the ’60s and ’70s. I still listen to Gene Ammons and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Eddie Jefferson and Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. I dig Dean Martin a lot, he was a terrific singer with a great sense of humor.”

Giacomo’s appreciation of Dean seems to rub off in his conversational style, which often veers toward an (unwitting) impression of Dean as hipster. After reeling off a list of the albums he’s recorded since the ’90s, he concludes: “I’m still trying to swing a little bit, baby.”

A fan long before he became a “jazzer” (one of his favorite terms), Giacomo pursued a different kind of digging in his former life, working construction for most of the first two decades of his adulthood, largely in Alaska. But he did have long musical roots.

“I took guitar lessons as a young kid, from 8 to 14 or so,” he says. “My teachers were jazzers, including Mickey LeDonne, the late father of pianist-organist Mike LeDonne. So I was exposed to the fake book [the American standards songbook] and learned a lot more of it playing in a wedding band when I was 16.”

It was much earlier, when he was 7 years old, that he made his rather inauspicious debut as singer. “I was taking tap dance lessons,” he remembers, “and at the recital I didn’t want to dance, so the instructor said I had to sing instead, so I did. I sang ‘Pretty Baby.’ I sang because it was fun.”

Giacomo admits to avidly listening to the music of that time, from R&B and soul, The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye, to rock ’n’ roll like the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. “But I also listened to jazz on New York radio stations,” he says, citing DJs Symphony Sid and Al “Jazzbo” Collins and recalling hearing Dexter, Thelonious Monk and others. It was on radio in the late 1960s that he discovered one of his most lasting influences, Jon Hendricks of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

Decades later, after he had made recordings, he went to see Hendricks & Co., Jon’s family group, bringing a cassette of his versions of Jon’s music. “I said to Jon ‘I want you to know that I dig what you do.’ He said he had heard my music and invited me to come back that Sunday and sit in with him. When he called me up and asked, ‘What do you want to sing, baby?’ I said, ‘I don’t have to sing anything, just standing up here with you is good enough.’ He laughed and called ‘Straight, No Chaser,’ I felt honored to sing with him.”

To Giacomo, Jon and Eddie are the epitome of vocalese, the art of singing lyrics set to recorded improvised instrumental solos. “Whenever Jon or Eddie sing on records it sounds like they’re having as much fun as the musicians and they [musicians] are not just backing them up, they’re with them and having fun too. And Eddie’s lyrics, which he sings like a horn, are real and funny and soulful and thoughtful, and Jon’s are funny, philosophical and soulful too.

“Vocalese is musical, funny and you have to be articulate, and also know the solo. It’s hard but it’s fun.”

The only problem is that, unlike when Jon and Eddie were writing their classic vocalese lyrics, these days it is hard to record your own similar songs. Giacomo has written many vocalese solos that he can’t record because now you need copyright permission and, as he says, “If you’re not a real big name and the publishers think they can make money, they don’t grant permission to record them.” But he performs them anyway, another reason to hear him in person.

Asked if there is a full album in the works, Giacomo says he wants to do a different kind of Christmas CD, one with Babs Gonzales’ “Night Before Christmas,” Louis Armstrong’s “Is That You Santy Claus?” and Bob Dorough’s “Blue Christmas.” “You know, baby,” he says, “swinging, fun Christmas songs.”

Giacomo Gates plays the Side Door August 30.

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