Thursday, January 8, 2009

Denise Donatelli: What Lies Within

Savant Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: What Lies Within

The Los Angeles-based Denise Donatelli sort of did it backwards: after she started a family. This CD is her first for Savant, and only her second overall, but she has had experience with the Freddy Cole and Stan Kenton alumni orchestras, and performed at a number of jazz concerts.

I'd classify Donatelli as a musician first and vocalist second; she's a true member of the band, and not just a singer being backed up by the group.

Why do I say that?

The first thing she did, when planning this album, was to ask Geoffrey Keezer, a top jazz pianist and arranger, to handle arrangements and production. Keezer wasn't familiar with her at the time, but it didn't take him long to say yes.

A primary selling point was Donatelli's decision to give him free-rein; her instruction was “Write whatever you want; I can sing anything.” (He did, and she can.)

Next, Keezer chose some of the best sidemen in the Los Angeles area: trumpeter Carl Saunders, reed-man Bob Shepard, guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Marvin Smith, along with an organist, cellist and additional percussionist. The resulting group, led by Keezer on piano, really swings.

Finally, only two of the 11 tracks are well-known standards (“My Shining Hour” and “We'll Be Together Again”); the remainder are beautiful but lesser-known tunes with lyrics that force the listener to concentrate.

Donatelli truly is a jazz musician and vocalist. You'll love her.

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