Having conquered the world stage, legendary jazz guitarist Frank Gambale brings out the best in some of WAAPA’s rising stars, writes Garry Lee.
Jazz in the Theatre, Frank Gambale
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 5 May 2023
It is an inspired decision by WAPPA to invite Frank Gambale as an artist-in-residence, with the legendary jazz fusion guitarist running a week of workshops before welcoming students on stage with him for two sold-out shows.
Gambale is Australian born but a long-time resident of the United States. In the early 1980s he moved from Canberra to study at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, where he was awarded student of the year with honours before going on to teach there.
In 1987, Gambale started a 34-year working relationship with legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea (ending only with Corea’s death in 2021). With 27 Grammys to his name, Corea is arguably the most significant artist in jazz of the last half century.
Imagine playing piano or keyboards with an artist who has accompanied Corea countless times. The quality of WAAPA’s tuition enables Luke Geha, Eli Metcalf, Flavio Colonetti and Liam Clement to step up for this role, with Geha’s solos in particular kicking multiple goals.
No less inspiring is the chance to solo on guitar alongside Gambale, with Vincent Choy and Aiden Moroney also showing a high level of maturity and technique.
The program of 13 compositions runs the gamut from solo guitar to guitar plus big band and jazz choir. Josh Parker (tenor saxophone), Holly Forster (alto sax), Gianni Petta (baritone sax) and Aaron Caldwell (alto sax) also relish the opportunity to perform alongside a world-class artist, with Parker’s solo on You Are All The Things revealing a highly talented emerging artist.
Gambale has 20 albums as a leader to his name and most are his own compositions, as are all but one of those played tonight. For many in the audience, the music is a new experience.
Gambale’s ability to intertwine lyricism and virtuosity is unveiled via four different guitars that take the listener on a journey. The nylon string acoustic/electric is an exquisite instrument for Avengers Suite 1 & 2, while the opener Free Spirit is played on a traditional electric archtop guitar and conjures up the highly popular approach of George Benson.
The solid body electric with multiple effects is used on many tunes, including Solo Tune where the chorus effect and delay effect are apparent. Gambale’s speed of picking at the top end of the guitar shows why he is a legend to rock guitarists such as Jerry Garcia, as well as several generations of fusion guitarists worldwide.
A self-deprecating wit comes to the surface with his original tune Have You Met Tom Jones. Based on the Richard Rodgers’ jazz standard Have You Met Miss Jones, Gambale shows his age (and mine) by playing Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual as an introduction.
This balanced concert finishes with Corea’s most famous composition, Spain, which provides a showcase for the emerging talent of teenage vibraphonist Jack Hadlow (who earlier performed an excellent solo on his maiden voyage, Gioia) and receives great encouragement from the full house.
Australians should be proud and inspired by the stature Frank Gambale has attained as a jazz guitarist of the very highest order. Chick Corea recognised this. So should we all.
Pictured top: WAAPA students were lucky to share the stage with jazz maestro Frank Gambale. Photo: Stephen Heath
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