|Ray Gelato - Salutes the Great Entertainers|
|Written by Frankie Hagan|
Ray Gelato has been a celebrated UK jazz musician (tenor sax) and vocalist for several decades, now, with film and television credits that have garnered him international influence, and a respected touring and performance record that has come with awards and accolades. Though already very well-known in England, Ray Gelato came to the attention of many international fans in 1998 when he was featured in a commercial for Levis Dockers, in an advertisement that was distributed worldwide, performing the classic Renato Carosone song, "Tu Vuo' Fa L'Americano". He was heavily popularized during the Neo-Swing wave of the late 90's, and has maintained a strong reputation in Europe as an entertainer extraordinaire, with steady musical offerings and sold out performances.
Ray Gelato's latest CD offering Salutes the Great Entertainers epitomizes an ideal that Ray Gelato well represents, a musical letter to the editor rebuking the criticism that some modern jazz enthusiasts seem to have for the performers who were showmen and excitably engaging individuals, rather than the currently more critically popularized laid back big band traditionalists, or bebop hipsters. Ray's liner notes bare out his search for the songs and the voices—the entertainers—he identifies strongly with.
One of the entertainers who is well represented on this album is Fats Waller, a man whose sense of humor and piano playing skills are the stuff of legend. Ray opens the album in tribute to Fats, with "This Joint is Jumping," an uptempo romp with hearty jump blues instrumentation and a spotlight on Ray's tenor sax skills. Considering that Ray is the English born son of a US Airman, this reviewer finds it fascinating how much his vocals resemble that of Italian crooners from the 60's, but it probably adds to, or explains, his continued popularity in Italy, in general. "Your Feet's too Big," swings comfortably, and has that Neo-Swing, jump blues feel and sound to it, dominated by horns and Ray's conversational vocals.
It's hard to imagine a bigger, more theatrical entertainer and musician than Cab Calloway, who Ray Gelato represents on this album with "The Jumpin' Jive," and in true Cab fashion has a call and response dialogue with his band, threads the needle with his sax, and allows some great horn play from the rest of his band ensemble. This track is highly danceable and is sure to be picked up by the ballroom crowd for jives or quicksteps, as the trends may go.
"On the Sunny Side of the Street" is a fitting and purposeful tribute to the great Louis Prima, an artist whose vocals I would compare to Gelato's. Ray paces this track as Prima would, and his riffing and scat style are right in sync with the show stopping legend. Once again, this track is great for fans of jazz sax with a jump blues bounce. "I'm in the Mood for Love," further underlines Gelato's understandable preference and reverence for Prima's phrasing and pacing. This track swings hard, is well-conceived with nice framing from the drums, and more great horn work.
Ray Gelato's take on Lionel Hampton's perennial swing favorite, "Flying Home," showcases all of his band admirably, but fans of the classic track may find this rendition a little bluesier than what they're used to, and to be fair, the arrangement is replacing an xalaphone with saxplay—it's going to sound different! The tune bounces with energy and vigor.
"Don't You Go Away Mad," is dedicated to the great Ella Fitzgerald, and Ray performs the song with a sound more reminiscent of small jazz ensembles with a bit of lounge swank. The horns, though very much a part of the arrangement, come across more in line with nightclub jazz than the harder jump feel that Ray is more notably associated with.
This reviewer's pick as a fun standout track is "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Ray Gelato's love letter to the great Tony Bennett. In his own liner notes, Gelato points out why he chose to perform it as a sax highlight rather than attempt to compete with Tony's superlative vocals on the classic song. The instrumental that Ray Gelato creates is something worthy of a 50's or 60's jukebox with all the kick of "Comanche," and all of the reflective quiet of "Sleepwalk."
There is certainly more here to discuss, Ray gives a reflective tip of the hat to Hoagy Carmichael with a sax rendition of "Stardust," worthy of a mood setting moment in a movie, all instrumentation, and equally assignable to several of the individuals being paid tribute on the album, Nat King Cole most apparently. The superb Mr. Cole is also lavished with "A Little More to Love," a smooth, bouncing lounge-esque track that allows Ray to flirt with the listener. The track is original, but Ray is attempting to convey it in a cool, Nat King Cole style. "Night and Day" may be a tribute to Sinatra, but it feels more like Louis Prima or Bobby Darin, as an upbeat frenetic jazz piece that seems very Las Vegas in its execution and arrangement. Bobby Darin is also given a nod in "Rags to Riches," another artist that Ray seems to feel a real affinity for, especially in mood and pacing. This track really allows the vocals and the lyric to shine.
"Is That Train Ever Comin'," is another Gelato original, and as much of a dedication to Louis Jordan, a man who basically invented the type of arrangement Ray Gelato has made a lifestyle of performing, as there ever really could be. This track hankers back to Neo-Swing and classic jump blues—it has a great piano bounce with the horns, and some theatrical train announcements during the song, all creating a feel of nostalgia, and framing the sort of experience that Ray Gelato has been successful at delivering for years. Packaged with the ideas and concepts embodied by the other artists being honored on this album, Salutes the Great Entertainers gives the listener an idea of what lego blocks form the man that is Ray Gelato, or if not the man, his music at the very least.
Frankie Hagan is a certified professional dance instructor and a member of the NDTA (National Dance Teacher's Association), and the World Swing Dance Council. His articles and reviews have appeared in swing-dance publications for several years. Learn more about Frankie at his website: www.dancefrankie.com