Though Kurt Elling, Andy Bey and Mark Murphy garner greater attention, there’s no question that Giacomo Gates belongs in their exalted league. Gates’ sandy baritone, consistently handled with both the laid-back ease of Billy Eckstine and interpretative panache of Mel Tormé (whose scat skills he echoes), is always inviting. But it is his ability to eschew overly familiar standards in favor of equally fine but less-obvious material that makes his albums particularly appealing.
Here, the 13-track spectrum, extending from Hendricks (“What Am I Here For?”) to Hendrix (“Up from the Skies”), unearths all sorts of rare delights, often served up in clever pairs. A reworking of Monk’s “Let’s Cool One” (fitted with Gates’ own lyrics and bracing scat lines) leads into Meredith d’Ambrosio’s gray-clouded “Melodious Funk.” Frank Wildhorn and John Murphy’s heartache-fueled “Romancin’ the Blues” provides an ideal counterpoint to Joe Derise and Marcia Hillman’s bouncily ebullient “The Blues Are Out of Town.” And Dickie Thompson’s self-assured “Me, Spelled M-E, Me” breezily extends the theme of romantic inevitability introduced with “Comes Love.” Elsewhere, Gates nods to both the Ink Spots and Bugs Bunny with the delightfully retro “Someone’s Rocking My Dream Boat” and indulges his affection for Bobby Troup tunes with the deliciously caloric travelogue “Hungry Man.”
Accompanying the disc is a five-track DVD, recorded at San Francisco’s Jazz at Pearl’s, that revisits “Melodious Funk,” offers a gorgeously wistful and tender “Since I Fell for You,” and pays double homage to one of Gates’ greatest influences, Eddie Jefferson, first with a playfully executed “Disappointed” (blended with the Gershwins’ “Lady Be Good”) and then with a smoking “Billie’s Bounce.”