On guitarist Jack Gates’ fourth solo album, VOYAGE OF THE TROUBADOUR, he takes the role of a traveling minstrel who goes from North America to South America to study Latin music and then brings back a variety of samples of the idiom to present to audiences in the United States and Europe. In truth, Gates has spent the past two decades studying and playing Latin music from Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Cuba, the West Indies and other spots between the tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. On this album he presents extremely Latin stylized numbers like a cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “So Danco Samba” with Gates’ wife, Sharyl, handling the vocals, and backed by Dean Muench on bass and Phil Thompson on drums. Like Gates, both members of the rhythm section have played in Northern California Latin bands off and on for years (Muench with Liza Silva, The Rio Thing and Misturado; and Thompson with Carlos Santana, Pete Escovedo, Marcos Silva and Viva Brasil). Jack Gates has performed with Juanita Newland, Rafael Manriquez and Quique Cruz, Fernando Sanjines and Samba do Coracao, Claudia Gomez, Chalo Eduardo, Monica Pasqual and Marcos Silva among others.
One interesting thing is that we are in an era where most guitarists who play Latin-style acoustic fall into the realm of flamenco or nuevo-flamenco, Gates does not go there. The Latin elements that he works in are less well known. Some of the Brazilian and Afro-Cuban styles he explores are fairly well-known, but he also incorporates a variety of obscure and seldom-heard-in-North-America rhythms, melodic-lines and shadings. But you do not have to be a musicologist to enjoy and appreciate his music. Just kick back, put your feet up and let Gates lead you through a musical tour of the Latin countries. He also plays electric guitar which gives a more modern-edge to those tracks. He varies it up from track to track -- some with the band, some without; some with singing, some instrumentals; some solo acoustic improvisational explorations, some tight Latin-jazz-band stomps.
There is no doubt Gates knows his stuff. He occasionally rips of some flashy solos or powerful riffs, but generally his style is much more subdued. The joy to be found here is in both the overall feeling and the nuances, the melodic phrasing and the free-wheeling style. Gates has something to say, and he says it well.
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