03/29/14 By Ken V
The Fortunes of Fate dish Yoshi audiences with a joyous celebration
Illness creates a golden opportunity for two stars to shine
By Ken Vermes
No one is happy that trumpeter Roy Hargrove could not fly out to California to do a five day set at Yoshi’s San Francisco this week. But the generosity of Roy gave two of the most thrilling musicians in jazz the opportunity to use his band. What happened next is something that will become a legend for the listeners who experienced it.
And if you are hesitating to use your tickets for the Hargrove set, or just curious about reed man Paquito D’Rivera and Roberta Gambriani, vocalist, I would take myself over to the club and see what has to be one of the most exciting jazz sets in the history of Yoshi’s.
There is a Roman writer’s quote about accidents that is apropos to this situation: “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” Roberta Gambriani is from Italy and must have learned this in school. Because in filling in for Roy Hargrove, she had the power, grace, and indeed, soul, to front this band in this situation. It helped her that the Roy Hargrove band is top notch. Centered around New Orleans native and prodigy Sullivan Fortner, this band can cook, and has the brassy assumption and personality to pour on the back-up, come up with their own solos and generally keep the night moving .
But the real romance was flying between Roberta and Cuban all-star Paquito D’Rivera, who despite having just won his eleventh Grammy award, is still not well known in the USA. That is hard to believe when he is not only a superlative alto sax player, but one of the greatest clarinet players alive today. In a brief interview from her hotel room before the show, Roberta, who is beautifully spoken, gracious, and supremely intelligent about the musical arts, expressed her recognition of the technical and emotional power of Paquito’s playing. “I am happy to learn from him, and I want to be like him,” she stated. “He is certainly one of the greatest clarinet players, and this is a beautiful sound.” And beautiful it was as Roberta and the band ran through a very generous set of world music, from jazz standards, like the blues “Center Piece,” and “When Lights are Low,” to a gorgeous Astor Piazzolla tune, “Oblivion” that had vocalists in the audience literally weeping with joy at the beauty of Roberta’s delivery. “I don’t want to define myself as just a jazz singer, but rather as a world artist. I try to do music across borders and remain true to myself,” she stated.
In an era when very few accidents happen in entertainment, and many artists are performing robotic, techno driven replicas of themselves, this performance was a powerful reminder of the fact that there are still musicians of enormous talent and imagination, who display a sincerity and fundamental artistic energy that is derived from the highest level of creative genius. And if you want to see these artists giving it there all, displaying mastery and brilliance, and creating at the highest of levels, then don’t miss this. It may never happen in this way ever again. Or put another way, we may never be so lucky to derive such joy from such an accidental partnership of music and the deepest respect and love. But of course, with these masters, nothing is an accident.
Ken writes for music sites around the world and can be found on facebook and twitter.
Roberta Gambriani and Paquito D'Rivera appear through Sunday at Yoshi's SF.
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