Written by Peter Hum
Los Angeles-based vocalist Denise Donatelli has found a potent musical director in pianist Geoffrey Keezer.
In addition to his impeccable playing, Keezer’s artistic stamp is firmly imprinted on Soul Shadows, the follow-up to her Grammy-nominated disc When Lights Are Low. That’s not to take away anything from Donatelli, who is able to meet the many demands that result from Keezer’s input.
Broadly speaking, Soul Shadows is a very smooth and well-crafted disc, in keeping with not just the stereotype of jazz from the U.S. Coast (spoken like a true central Canadian, you might say) but also with the disc’s sonic palette, which favours percussion over drums, adds strings on several tracks, frequently deploys acoustic guitar, and tends to Brazilian and Latin grooves. The disc is also very much a studio creation — as opposed to a disc titled Live at the Village Vanguard — with components from sessions in California, New York and London, England. That’s not a criticism per se, but for some, this approach to making a record, with its intrinsic time-shifting, reflects one kind of esthetic. Certainly the music sounds seamless, even if some solos or were popped in after basic tracks were laid down.
But enough of “how,” and back to “what.” Donatelli’s disc consists of 10 tracks reflect refined tastes and deep artistry when it comes to a broad repertoire that straddles jazz and pop. Two standards bookend the CD. Opening the disc is what is arguably its most exciting track, All Or Nothing At All, set by Keezer to an Afro-Peruvian beat. (With his 2009 disc, Aurea, Keezer rolled up his sleeves and immersed himself in the world of Afro-Peruvian percussion.) Donatelli is right at home with this new lilt, and her singing, as it is throughout the entire disc, is nuanced and expressive. At the disc’s other end is a version of Too Late Now, performed as a duet for voice and piano, as if to say that in the end, Donatelli and Keezer can bowl a listener over in the most classic fashion.
Between the two standards, however, are tunes and arrangements attesting to wide-roaming musical tastes. Singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke’s No Better, a gritty, backbeat-driven song about love lost, has been markedly polished. It opens with an overdubbed choir and it moves to Peter Sprague’s double-tracked finger-style guitar work rather than Brooke’s raw strumming. Also remade is Pamplamoose’s excellent YouTube confection Another Day: