By Brian Arsenault
The first cut, “Big Noise, New York” storms in like a Saturday night in Manhattan and I go, “Great! powerhouse jazz served smoking.” But that’s not the whole of Denise Donatelli’s Find a Heart, not by a long shot.
The poet turned essayist Donald Hall writes that “Contradiction is the cellular structure of life.” On this album it also seems the cellular structure of music.
Back and forth we go from bold jazz to sly romance. There’s yearning despite skepticism of the likely outcome. Lovers are beckoned and pushed away, longed for and scorned.
The music equally contrasting. Tempo flares up then ripples softly.
The album soars on the title track, Leonardo Amuedo’s slashing guitar chasing Denise’s vocal of passion — “make it work by touching skin.” Then the same Amuedo on the very next track providing solo soft and sensual acoustic support for her heartachingly sung “Not Like This.” Actually, exactly like that.
The songs on this album by a variety of composers and lyricists seem a conversation with each other, a back and forth of style and sensibility. One hesitates to use the word sophisticated since it’s rather loaded and off putting for some. But take it as sophisticated in the sense of artistically mature, relationships for grownups, William Holden films don’t ya know.
Denise’s voice is a polished instrument. It (she) moves up and down scales, octaves, emotions with seeming ease, the mark of true artistry. It never seemed like Sinatra was working at it, did it.
Geoffrey Keezer, who Denise calls her musical partner, gets credit as the album’s producer and arranger but you’ll probably be most grateful for his piano work all over the album. And speaking of all over, Marvin “Smutty” Smith who was the Tonight Show drummer through most of Jay Leno’s tenure, dazzles often especially on the album’s up tempo jazz tunes such as the title song. Master bassist Carlitos Del Puerto is the other half of the stellar rhythm section.
Terrific guests add depth and color. Superb trumpeter Chris Botti adds just the right touch on “Practical Arrangement,” making you wish he could have stayed longer at the studio. And cellist Giovanna Clayton adds resonance wonderfully here and there. Isn’t it great that the cello has been increasingly freed from string quartet only.
If I haven’t given enough attention to individual songs in this review — “Troubled Child.” “In This Moment” and “Practical Arrangement” should and probably will become “standards,” sung by many others and deservedly so — it’s because the album hangs together so well as a complete piece.
Concept album is too trite a phrase to describe Find A Heart, but twenty-first century songbook perhaps isn’t. (I might have stolen that insight from Neil Tesser’s liner notes but so what, he had it right.)
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On Thursday, September 24, Denise Donatelli will celebrate the release of Find A Heart with a gala performance and party at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. (323) 466-2210.
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To read more reviews, essays and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.