John Gamba: Mr. Counterpoint / Claude Williamson: The Fabulous Claude Williamson Trio

Seventy-minute CD collecting two LPs offers insights into two perfectly competent but little remarked pianists from the early 1960s

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Once more, a release from Fresh Sound featuring overlooked figures from the archives. This is from the label’s “Presenting…Rare and Obscure Jazz Albums” series. Mr. Counterpoint was the nickname of the little-known pianist John Gamba, a reference to his New Jersey club, The Counterpoint, but also to his style of playing.

Here his material is mainly medium-tempo numbers. In Other Words (Fly Me To The Moon) has a Bachian feel to it with expanding intervals, fragmentation and alternating contrapuntal passages. This is also the case on In A Sentimental Mood and Yesterdays, with its minor touches and blocked chords. Things Ain’t What They Used To Be is used as a vehicle for a blues-based rendition and there’s an imaginative arrangement of On Green Dolphin Street.

Gamba shows his facility for faster numbers on Lullaby Of The Leaves, on which the strongly supportive Don Cinderella and Paul Motian (taking time off from his duties with Bill Evans) are given solos.

The more familiar Claude Williamson came to prominence after moving from New England to California, where he quickly established himself as one of the foremost West Coast pianists although he was determined not to follow the stereotype, which implied elements of restraint and clinical expertise. Like Hampton Hawes, Lou Levy and others he showed competence and ease in dealing with fast, more dynamic material. He followed the innovations and intensity of Bud Powell and the decorative, elaborate flourishes of Oscar Peterson.

In this trio recording he shows his credentials as an interpreter of popular songbook titles, no doubt established when he was June Christy’s pianist. A nod is directed towards Sinatra in the choices – Witchcraft and You Make Me Feel So Young are at a lively pace; Young At Heart and the rhapsodic All The Way are slower. Lady Is A Tramp is taken at speed, impressively propelled by bassist Duke Morgan and by Chuck Flores’ dextrous brushwork.

In contrast to the Gamba tracks, the bass and drums have greater involvement. Both are featured on Anything Goes and Morgan shares the lead statement of They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Williamson plays Nancy and While We Were Young as solo pieces.

Although both pianists tend towards over-elaboration, it’s an attractive and enjoyable album.

Discography
(1) Things Ain’t What They Used To Be; In Other Words; In A Sentimental Mood; Yesterdays; Green Dolphin Street; Wait Till You See Her; Lullaby Of The Leaves; Secret Love; (2) Witchcraft; A Foggy Day; Young At Heart; You Make Me Feel So Young; Nancy; The Lady Is A Tramp; Anything Goes; All The Way; They Can’t Take That Away From Me; While We’re Young; At Long Last Love (71.52)
(1) Gamba (p); Don Cinderella (b); Paul Motian (d). NYC, August 1962. (2) Claude Williamson (p); Duke Morgan (b); Chuck Flores (d). Los Angeles, 1961.
Fresh Sounds FSRCD 1078