With the release of this third CD, Giacomo Gates has made it obvious that he has a focused and consistent concept of who he is and what he does. There is no other male vocalist on the scene today whose commitment to the genre of vocalese is so steadfast, both in honoring its past and in helping to defining its future. I have had the privilege of talking music with Gates on a couple of occasions, and his command and knowledge of the history is astounding. What's more, it's not just the vocal music that he concerns himself with, but the entire tradition of instrumental jazz as well. Indeed, it is the horn soloists with whom he seems to align himself, as he works out not only improvisations on the melody line, but improvisations on the solos as well.
I'm pleased about the inclusion of his lyricized version of Milestones on Centerpiece. I have long felt that more original material was a logical next step for Gates, even though I have always loved what he does with the lyrics of Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and others. His take on the old Kingston Trio tune Scotch and Soda always makes me smile; He has the ability to get to a tune's essence in a way that perhaps its composer couldn't, something Billie Holiday was noted for in her many interpretations of banal pop material. It's worth noting that many of the tunes included here have been in Gates' live performance repertoire for quite a while. Such an approach produces a warmth and familiarity that comes through when the tunes are at last recorded.
Gates' ability to bring story telling into his delivery not only reflects his love of this music's oral history, but also creates an aura of suspense. At times we are waiting simply to see just what the tune is going to be, at other times we're waiting for a musical punchline within his often hip and humorous material. Again, by honing the tunes in live performance, he is able to bring a believable live feeling into the studio.
The band assembled for Centerpiece is as hard swinging a unit as can be found anywhere. Harold Danko, who appeared on Gates' first disc Blue Skies is back once again and in fine form. Ray Drummond on bass, "a man who needs no introduction" as they say, and drummer Greg Bandy round out the deep-grooving rhythm section. This is the first of Giacomo Gates recordings to use a quintet, and the addition of Vic Juris on guitar along with Vincent Herring on alto increase the musical possibilities exponentially. Juris in particular is a firmly rooted, yet colorful and modernistic guitarist, a unique voice in a traditional environment, and his presence here moves the music into a new space.
There's another solo voice on this disc, one that is not credited in the notes. Gates himself performs vocalized solos that add several different voices to the mix, among them trombone, trapset, and tap shoes. Oh, and he can whistle, too.