Naples-born singer Letizia Gambi released her first album in 2012 with producer Lenny White and with players like Patrice Rushen, Chick Corea, Ron Carter, and Gil Goldstein. Now she is back with her sophomore album “Blue Monday”, again produced by the legendary drummer and with more high-class accompanists such as Carter, Goldstein, Helen Sung, Donald Vega, Dave Stryker, and John Benitez. The last time I saw her perform was about two years ago during APAP in New York with Lenny White.
Letizia mixes her classic American standard repertoire with Italian traditional songs. Her knack for unusual medley pairings is evident from the very start, where she mixes the “Sweet Georgia Brown” goodie with Jackie McLean‘s “Dig” and a Neapolitan chant from an opera. An enchanting opening to this 13-song collection. Her voice is easy on the ear, clear and concise, with an occasional pitch irregularity. Her version of Joe Henderson‘s “Recordame” with her own and Lenny’s lyrics, becomes a nice Brazilian-flavored feature with great solos by Carter and Stryker.
Her original “Without You/Senz’e Te” is dedicated to the late great Pino Daniele, another Neapolitan native. Other than a cool Donald Vega solo, the song is the one where her pitch and intonation issue becomes most obvious. But the album is like a rollercoaster ride: I had my doubts about using “Que Sera Sera” on this album, but her version with a beautiful arrangement and accordion by Gil Goldstein together with her optimistic vocal performance, makes this one of the winners on the disc. Fresh and original. I wasn’t really impressed with “Under The Moon”, another Letizia/Lenny original which has some impressive piano work by the great Helen Sung though.
The Gershwin standard “But Not For Me”, done here in a swinging piano/bass/drum version, has her scatting towards the end – and you know my view on scat singing. Her interpretation is much too incoherent. I had more fun with her own title track, where you can hear her accent, but also her gift for writing a decent song. Letizia also does the Amy Winehouse tune “Back To Black” – I was never really into that song from the start, though. But the use of bandoneon (Hector Del Cuerto) and piano on this arrangement is rather cute.
We’re also treated to a composition by Italian legend Lelio Luttazzi. His 1959 ballad “Perchè Domani”, “You’ll Say Tomorrow”, is sweet and lovely and has more of Helen’s elegant and superb playing. Letizia does a second version in Italian, with Helen and cellist Jisoo Ok only. Beautiful stuff and something that fits the singer well. More ballad material comes with “When You Were Here” and the tempo changes to tango on the haunting “Skin To Skin”. Let me quote Lenny White from the accompanying press release: “I see Letizia Gambi as a work in progress with potential to be an iconic international star.” We’ll keep watching.