Los Angeles based Denise Donatelli is a deep breath of jazz singer fresh air. Far too many female jazz singers (why are there so few men?) are given audiophile recording pulpits from which to ply their mediocre wares. Not so, Donatelli. She’s the real deal. Blessed with a lovely voice that knows how important the melody is, Donatelli can blow with the best, scat (far more rare a gift than you might think), get out of the way when needed, and sing at all times with taste. She’s a keeper for my collection.
Savant Records has cobbled together (different venues for tracks) an audiophile quality recording. True demo quality. Are you reading this review, manufacturers? If you must use yet another female jazz singer at audio shows, Donatelli’s new album Soul Shadows will fit the bill nicely. Mind you, some chamber music, a classical singer (no, not Pavarotti), and some non mainstream, orchestral music would not go amiss!
Back to Soul Shadows. The CD contains nine tracks of repertoire new to me and with a standard to begin the set (All or Nothing at All). Instantly, you’ll recognize the open and detailed recording quality and the superior musicianship enveloping Donatelli’s sexy voice.
Like all great singers, Donatelli surrounds herself with excellence. Her music director, Geoffrey Keezer is a brilliant pianist. His solos swing throughout and are a constant delight. You’ll hear the great percussionist Alex Acuna adding colour and magic to many of the charts. Other solos, by Brit saxophonist Tim Garland on Wayne Shorter’s ‘A Promise’ (phoned in from the UK, but integrated seamlessly into the musical fabric), Ramon Stagnaro, acoustic guitar on the opening standard, and a top notch L.A. session string quartet (plus string bass) also on ‘A Promise’, all sound superb. Everything is so musical.
The star of the show, though, is Donatelli’s voice. More mezzo (even alto, in some instances) than full on soprano, Donatelli phrases the melodies beautifully. The ballad, Christian McBride/Sting’s ‘When I Looked Again’ and the boss nova version of Bill Withers’ ‘Soul Shadows’ are perfect examples of Donatelli’s musical art. The McBride/Sting song was unreleased, so a treat, here.
Other great tracks include the ultra poignant, ‘Too Late Now’, a duet for singer and MD. It’s gorgeous and a suitable finale. ‘Ocean’ is a lilting 12/8 melody over tasteful piano and ‘Postcards and Messages’ by Peter Eldridge of New York Voices adds the songwriter’s voice along with the aforementioned superb string quartet. Wonderful songs, all.
Audiophiles, you can buy this album safe in the knowledge that it will show off (test) your system brilliantly (everyone will be asking you ‘what is that album?’!). And, for civilians, get it for the supreme musicianship by all involved also safe in the knowledge that the melody is King and the musicians are always in service to it.
Savant SCD 2117
Playing time: 50:12