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Giacomo Gates: What Time Is It? (Savant)

Veteran jazz singer pays subtle tribute to his vocal heroes

Giacomo Gates: "What Time Is It?"
Giacomo Gates: “What Time Is It?”

In Mark Murphy’s wake, there are two contenders for coolest, sharpest male vocalist around. One, Kurt Elling, is a household name, at least within jazz circles. The other, Giacomo Gates, deserves to be. Gates, now 67, waited until his 40s to pursue music full-time, but quickly emerged as a deeply insightful vocal acrobat, preternaturally skilled in scat and vocalese, and a first-rate storyteller.

Eight albums in, Gates turns his attention to time—not time signatures (à la Dave Brubeck) but physical time. A spoken-word intro provides a rapid-fire compendium of timepieces, from sundials to stopwatches, concluding with Gates’ observation that “still, most people don’t know what time it really is”—an ideal segue to a laidback reading of Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” Thereafter, the time connection becomes less literal, and Gates’ focus shifts to romantic times, good times, flush times, hard times and such. As usual, Gates draws upon his vocal heroes, with two nods to Oscar Brown Jr.—an aptly forlorn “Somebody Buy Me a Drink” and peppery “Mr. Kicks”—and one to Eddie Jefferson, with a lithe “Disappointed,” plus a mellow treatment of Betty Carter’s “I Can’t Help It.” The rest of the program travels from the 1950s—the pop hit “Silhouettes” and Tadd Dameron’s “On a Misty Night”—to the present day: octogenarian drummer and bandleader Artt Frank’s boplicious “A Few Bucks Ahead” and, to close, Gates’ spoken-word bookend, “Too Many Things,” a warning that the time has come to get our priorities straight.

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