Between 2006 and 2009, Italian émigré Roberta Gambarini delivered a trio of albums that earned her widespread plaudits as the heir apparent to Ella or Sarah or both. Then … a deafening silence. A trickle of fresh Gambarini material did appear last year with her four-track appearance on the Pratt Brothers Big Band’s terrific 16 Men & a Chick Singer Swingin’. Now, at last, Gambarini has released a new (if slightly difficult to obtain) disc.
The album was recorded in New Jersey earlier this year with an ace quartet of saxophonist/flutist Justin Robinson, pianist George Cables, bassist John Webber and drummer Victor Lewis. But you won’t find it at your local CD outlet. Like the majority of her vocalist peers, Gambarini has an enormous following in Japan. The affection is mutual, and The Shadow of Your Smile is her exclusive billet-doux to them. (It is even subtitled Hommage [sic] to Japan.)
And fortunate the Japanese are, for this is Gambarini’s finest outing to date, her plush, round notes and pearlescent tone shown to superb advantage. The mood is generally mellow, with lithe readings of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You,” “Poor Butterfly,” “My One and Only Love” and the haunting title track plus a double-dip into the Carpenters’ songbook for “Close to You” and “Rainy Days and Mondays.” But she also gives her chops a healthy workout on a down-‘n’-dirty “Moanin’,” a scat-infused “Satin Doll” and a breezy “Fly Me to the Moon” that’s at once Sassy-warm and Sinatra-cool.