VOYAGE OF THE TROUBADOUR
In days gone by a musician leaves San Francisco Bay on a sailing ship that travels south around Cape Horn and along the coast of South America -- Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela -- and through the West Indies to Cuba. At every stop along the way he performs for local audiences and imparts his musical knowledge, but also picks up regional music ideas that become incorporated into his sound. This is the metaphorical concept behind guitarist Jack Gates’ latest solo album, Voyage of the Troubadour.
Gates has always loved a wide variety of different types of music, but has especially studied Latin sounds from Brazilian to Afro-Cuban over the past 20 years. On this CD (his fourth solo album), Gates takes his music through the realms of sparse acoustic new age-style guitar improvisation to the sounds of an upbeat rhythmic Latin-jazz band with stops in-between on tunes featuring just guitar and vocals (by his wife, singer Sharyl Gates), an electric-guitar-led ensemble, and various combinations of acoustic and electric guitars mixed with singing, bass and drums, often with Latin-music stylings.
“The traveling troubadour concept,” explains Gates, “was how music moved from place to place for hundreds of years. Generally the music was made with just a couple of stringed-instruments and maybe some percussion. On this album I wanted to capture that sort of sparseness with just a few instruments and occasional voice, and have the music subtly reflect different styles, motifs and rhythms that I have discovered and enjoyed playing during my career.”
Jack wrote all the music and Sharyl all the lyrics and vocalizations, except for the one cover tune, “So Danco Samba,” composed by legendary Brazilian musician Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Danco” is pronounced in Portuguese as “Don-so”). Sharyl, who appears on seven of the 12 tunes, mostly performs wordless vocals, but also occasionally sings in English and Brazilian-style Portuguese. They are joined on six selections by drummer Phil Thompson (Carlos Santana, Pete Escovedo, Roger Glenn, Marcos Silva, Viva Brasil) and bassist Dean Muench (Liza Silva, The Rio Thing, Misturado, and Operations Director of the Berkeley Jazz School).
More information on Jack Gates is available at his website jackgatesmusic(dot)com. His CDs and digital download tracks from those recordings are available at online sales sites such as CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody and many others.
Gates’ previous albums are the solo guitar recording Boulevard (including original material as well as compositions by Jobim, Egberto Gismonti, Baden Powell, Cole Porter, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Lennon/McCartney), Earth Messenger (all original material with world-music inflections performed with a bassist and drummer as well as a few special guests), and another ensemble collection, New Geography (featuring Michael Manring, Mark Lemaire, Phil Thompson and other guests on material ranging from solo guitar to styles from India to contemporary jazz). Gates also recorded a duo album with sitarist and North-Indian flutist Tim White, Morning Song Evening Song.
In addition, Gates is a longtime live performer, producer, arranger, session musician, composer and guitar teacher. He has produced albums and sessions for Larry Stefl, Bill Meyer, Marc Silber and Deborah Henson-Conant. Gates also arranged and played guitar on an album for singer Helene Attia that also featured musicians such as Norton Buffalo, Roger Glenn and Celso Alberti. Gates has performed on recordings by Silvia Nakkach and Kit Walker (with Paul McCandless), Joanne Shenandoah, Steve Deutsch (with Omar Sosa), Chris Saunders, Juanita Newland, Rafael Manriquez and Quique Cruz, Fernando Sanjines and Samba do Coracao, Faranak, Bob Giles and many others. Gates has performed live with Frank Biner (Tower of Power), Tyler Eng (Greg Kihn), Chris Solberg (Santana, Eddie Money), Claudia Gomez, Jeff Narell, Klezmania, Chalo Eduardo, Monica Pasqual, Marcos Silva and others.
Jack grew up in Northern California in the Berkeley-Kensington-El Cerrito area. When he was young his parents introduced him to classical music and a little later on to folk-singers (Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs). Soon he was listening to the guitarists Andres Segovia and John Fahey. Gates took some folk guitar and flamenco lessons as a youngster, but jazz guitar lessons when he was 16 opened new doors of understanding and he started appreciating George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. After becoming enthralled with the playing of Jimi Hendrix, Gates put together a rock’n’roll band, Underock, at age 18 to play at local dances and eventually nightclubs. While a music major at Cal State Hayward, Gates began playing classical guitar. He studied with the renowned David Tanenbaum and also audited a master class taught by Julian Bream at the San Francisco Conservatory. Gates had the opportunity to go to the John Cabot School in Italy for six months and study art history (while there he also played music with his friend Tim White). After returning home, the association with White led to Gates studying North Indian classical music under famed musician Ali Akbar Khan and learning to play the sarod.
After switching his focus back to guitar, Gates broadened his musical studies even further. First he immersed himself in Sixties jazz (John Coltrane, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner), then R&B and finally Latin music. “Getting deep into Brazilian music was a revelation,” says Gates, who began exploring the music of Jobim, Baden Powell and Milton Nascimento. “This was important for my guitar playing because it showed me how to stretch and simultaneously incorporate many elements into my music. South and Central America have always been a fertile place for music where so many styles have come together including jazz, blues, indigenous music and elements from Portugal, Spain and Africa.”
Gates states, “I have many musical influences and you can hear a variety of them on the Voyage of the Troubadour album. It mirrors my listening habits and my experiences as a musician. I listen to all types of music regularly, sort of like the eclectic programming we used to hear on the Seventies underground-FM radio stations. That’s why I like to integrate bits and pieces of any type of music that has inspired me through the years.”
The album begins with a solo acoustic guitar improvisation, “Denouement” (“I was leaning toward textures rather than structure”), and toward the end of the CD is another solo acoustic number, “The Walking Stick” (“I incorporated Peruvian, Venezuelan, Cuban and Brazilian idea”). “Moon Goddess,” which is acoustic guitar with Sharyl singing wordless vocals, “has some inspiration from Villa-Lobos and is loosely based on the indigenous music from the Amazon region.” “Animal Spirits” similarly features acoustic guitar and voice. “The Bright Flower” adds electric guitar to the acoustic and the vocals (“a fairly complex piece with a lot of different sections including a sped-up ending typical in sambas”). On Jobim’s “So Danco Samba” bass and drums are heard for the first time on the CD. “Hypnosis” is a band instrumental with Gates over-dubbing two electric guitar parts (“I used different speakers and different microphones to differentiate the guitars”). Another instrumental piece by the group is “The Voyage.” The full band, with Sharyl singing both in English and wordless vocals, is heard on “The Troubadour” and “The Drum Song” (“The rhythm is a centuries-old West African dance beat”).
“I wanted this album to have a pure sound without any of the elaborate electronic processing so common in music today,” explains Gates. “I also did very little editing. I like a real performance, not a bunch of perfect little pieces edited together.
“Primarily on Voyage of the Troubadour I did not want every piece on the album to sound alike. I feel variety holds a listener’s interest the best. I like to experiment and explore different musical territories, so I am hopeful the listener will enjoy taking this journey with me.”