Letizia Gambi: Introducing Letizia Gambi

So often, across all of the arts, a powerful career liftoff requires more than just raw talent. Considerable guts, and a certain degree of luck, are also required, as Letizia Gambi learned while traveling the serpentine path that led to her debut recording, a rather astonishing introduction that finds the Italian vocalist in such esteemed company as Lenny White, Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Gato Barbieri, Wallace Roney and Gil Goldstein.

Gambi, who’s already earned considerable success in her native land as an actress and band singer, had an idea: to re-imagine classic Neapolitan tunes from her childhood with a modern twist. When White, Corea and Stanley Clarke’s Power of Three tour landed in Milan in 2009, she maneuvered her way backstage and explained her concept to the drummer. Intrigued, White subsequently listened to her updated arrangement of “Carmela” and not only agreed to produce her album and play on all 14 tracks, but also to get stellar pals to participate.

With the original mandate expanded to include covers of Duke Ellington, Prince and Björk, plus a trio of Neapolitan-esque Gambi-White originals, the results are understandably polished and quite sparklingly fresh. Apart from Carter and Barbieri, who each enhance multiple tracks, the big-name guests make only brief visits-Corea on an impassioned “Appocundria,” Roney contributing a warm solo to the aching “You Are So Special (Tu Si ‘Na Cosa Grande)” and Barbieri adding blazing sax to a colorful reworking of Prince’s “The Question of U.” These pros being the gentlemen they are, the focus remains firmly on Gambi who, if more pop- than jazz-oriented, proves a most sanguinely full-bodied and dexterous stylist, as impressive at scaling the ardent heights of “Passione” as she is at sensually skulking the dark corners of Björk’s “Bachelorette.”