Gates has assembled a collection of twelve songs that take the listener on a musical journey along the coast of South America and through the West Indies and Cuba. He performed at every stop and jammed with local musicians. The regional ideas gathered on this trip were incorporated into material for this CD.

Jack Gates is an experienced guitarist with impressive credits and many previous CDs. The guitar work on this CD ranges from acoustic guitar with sparse instrumental accompaniments to full band sounds. The songs feature an adult-contemporary sensibility with just enough Afro-Cubana and Latin-jazz to spice them up. Jack’s wife Sharyl contributes wordless vocals in some numbers, and sings in English and Portuguese in others.

The album begins with the lovely solo guitar ode “Denouement.” It’s reflective and relaxed, but complex enough to entice the listener into the guitarist’s creative space. Track 2: Moon Goddess is an eerie tribute to Luna that combines guitar and voice. Track 3: The Bright Flower is a guitar duet with English vocal lyrics. The gentle rhythms and melody flow easily and feature a surprisingly sophisticated chordal progression.

A full band sound arrives on Track 4: So Danco Samba. This smooth, leisurely samba features some very sweet guitar licks. I was half-way expecting Cal Tjader to chime in on the xylophone. The full-group sound continues on Track 5: Hypnosis. This song is an easy-listening jazz piece with more sizzling guitar work – and a nice change of pace from the Latin-flavored material. Track 6: New Geography returns to the spare small combo sound, with a soft vocal. She sings about how “I would really like to travel.” Sharyl Gates nails the vocal technique that’s perfect for this kind of material – clear, soft, and nicely pitched.

Gates is a highly capable axe-man. His solo material is deft and performed with confidence. In small and larger combos, the mix is crisp and pleasing. The guitar work blends into the ensemble texture, occasionally leaps out with an astonishing lead, and then retreats back into the group mix. The variety of instrumental textures (solo, combo, full band) adds greatly to the appeal of this album.

“Voyage of the Troubadour” is one of those albums that’s perfect to relax to at the end of a long sunny afternoon, when you’re ready for a beer with a slice of lime in it, or even if you’re mixing a pitcher of margaritas for your friends. Latino and Afro-Cubana rhythms are a musical panacea that can transport the listener to a better frame of mind. This is a sophisticated, expertly modulated adult-contemporary jazz/Latino fusion. The engineering is top-notch, too. There’s a great balance of textures, rhythms, and instrumentalists. It exceeded my expectations and will definitely be included on my go-to list for mood-lifting and kick-back music. Recommended!

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Artist: Jack Gates
WhiteGates Publishing, copyright 2014
12 tracks, 60:29 minutes
Available in CD format and digital downloads at CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody and others.

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