Saturday, May 28, 2005

Dena DeRose - A Walk In the Park

I'll admit that I'm quite picky when it comes to albums by vocalists. I could spend hours going into why that is, but it seems like the pool of jazz vocal talent is bigger, but not nearly as deep as it is, say for saxophonists or pianists. And there are other issues at hand, after all, it's easier for a horn player or guitarist to have something interesting to say on a jazz standard than it is for a vocalist, (most of the time).

One of the vocal albums that recently crossed my desk that I enjoy playing on the air quite a lot is a new one by vocalist & pianist Dena DeRose. It's called "A Walk in the Park" and takes it's name from a tune written by DeRose (performed as an instrumental on this cd) inspired by a walk in the park with the late pianist James Williams. Through the whole cd, DeRose's talent at the piano stands out, perhaps more so than even Diana Krall. Not to say that Diana isn't a good pianist, she is, but I think Dena's doing things at a different level. In fact DeRose started out as a pianist and only began to sing after a battle with carpal tunnel syndrome forced her to take a break from the keys. She has a rich voice, with impeccable phrasing, and a jazz musicians approach to rhythm and harmony (lacking in so many "jazz" vocalists today).

A few standout tracks are worth mention. The CD opens with a great arrangement of the Jobim tune "Meditation". Normally performed as a bossa nova, DeRose starts out her version with a solo piano intro, followed by a finger popping swing feel, with just a hint of straight eights bossa feel in drummer Matt Wilson's rimshots and ride cymbal work. The "swing-a-nova" treatment is a great idea for this tune, and really fits with the lyric. I always like hearing a familiar melody in a new context, and this is a great example of that. Another stand out track is DeRose's version of "All the Way" this time dispensing with the usual ballad tempo for an uptempo bossa feel. DeRose really gets a chance to show off her piano work on this track, with some great (and fast) single note lines, singing in unison with her improvisations (much like John Pizzarelli). There is one misfire though. I'm not wild about her version of "I Concentrate On You", which is indeed an interesting experiment in stereo isolation, as well as several other things. But at least DeRose is willing to take some chances and most of the time, it pays off quite well.


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