Gino Vanelli is someone who was not the type of artist I’d always imagined he was. My earliest understanding of him was as a melodic pop balladeer. During the summer of 2008 I was pretty absorbed in his music,as well as learning about Gino’s ever evolving depth of character. And the most important thing about his music is that he allowed it to evolve. That’s because he was and still remains a jazz/funk based singer songwriter-an expressive songwriter,dramatic vocalist and a poetic lyrical storyteller right up there with the best in his respective genre of music.
His very first album was 1973’s Crazy Life on A&M. For all intents and purposes,this album was a duet album between Gino and his keyboardist brother Joe,who’d of course remain by his side for the rest of Gino’s musical career. The album has a pronounced Brazilian jazz rhythmic flavor about most of it-with just a touch of blues. But it’s stripped down,cozy night club flavor sets it apart from the cinematic fusion pop masterpieces Gino would turn out during the mid to late 70’s. One song on the album that truly stood out on my fourth full listen to Gino’s debut was a tune entitled “Great Lake Canoe”.
A processed Fender Rhodes electric paino starts off the groove-underpinned by a floating two note bass line. As the refrain starts up in earnest,the drum and percussion pump right up into the cleanest end of the Afro-Cuban rhythmic clave. That Rhodes piano and bass churn right away as Gino sings right there with the same major/minor chord melodic transition. Before each chorus a brittle,metallic synthesizer plays the change. On the bridge,that synth introduces a melodically improvised Clavinet solo before the final refrain and chorus of the song-where that metallic synth fades the rhythm right out.
It’s taken many listens to realize just how strong a Brazilian jazz-funk song “Great Lake Canoe” actually is. The groove never loses focus of the melodic content of the song. But the Fender Rhodes is a reverb laden friendly,funky giant on this song. Processed in the finest tradition of Steely Dan,Joe Vanelli hits the keys hard on this. While Crazy Life is a slower,mellower album this for sure is it’s funkiest moments. Gino sings of the natural beauty of a boat ride on America’s Great Lakes as a source of perspective on reality. And this groove gives a strong perspective itself on the funkiest side of Gino Vanelli’s sound.