During his life as a guitarist, Jack Gates has studied and played folk, classical, rock’n’roll, jazz, flamenco and North Indian classical music. But the genre that captured his imagination the most was Latin music, everything from acoustic indigenous to rockin’ full band sounds and everything in between (such as Latin-Jazz). On his fourth solo album, Voyage of the Troubadour, Gates explores a bunch of different Latin stylings that he has come across over the years of both listening to many South American and Caribbean musicians, but also playing with many Latin bands and Hispanic performers in the San Francisco area where Gates resides. Gates included some Latin numbers on previous albums, but he more fully explores the genre on this latest CD. On some pieces you barely hear the Latin influences, but that is because sometimes Jack very subtly works in the background material (a lick here, a rhythm pattern there, a chord progression that does not announce itself as Latin with a bullhorn but falls into the equator-scheme of things anyway).
The album has five instrumental tunes (from solo guitar pieces to guitar-bass-drums ensemble rave-ups). The other seven songs feature Gates’ wife, Sharyl, singing either wordless vocals, English or Portuguese. The prettiest tunes range from Gates’ solo acoustic picking on “The Walking Stick” to the band’s cover version of Jobim’s “So Danco Samba” with a lovely Portuguese vocal by Sharyl. Other highlights are the jazzy “The Voyage” and Jack’s solos on “Hypnosis” and “The Drum Song,” and Sharyl’s wordless chanting on “Moon Goddess.” This album is a lot fun to listen to, not the least because it keeps you on your toes (the first time through there is no way possible to guess what style or sound will come next). But the variety works to hold the listener’s interest and keep your ears perked up. Gates proves to be a fine stylist with a lot of talent. This recording whets the appetite for further guitar explorations from him.