“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That is the admonition that vocalist Denise Donatelli takes fully to heart in her present release, Find a Heart. The way she ensures this is continuing her very successful collaboration with pianist Geoffrey Keezer, who has consistently challenged the vocalist over her last several recordings to not simply think outside the box, but to throw it away altogether. Joining Keezer in support of Donatelli are Brazilian guitarist Leonardo Amuedo, bass player Carlitos del Puerto, drummer Marvin Smith, as well as trumpeter Chris Botti, who appears on a selection.
The recording contains a broad popular repertoire that includes songs by David Crosby (the title track), Beck (“Eyes That Say I Love You”), The Yellowjackets (“Love and Paris Rain”), Donald Fagan (“Big Noise, New York”) and Journey (“Troubled Child”). In the jazz vernacular, that is progressive recital in anyone’s book. The field of jazz vocals has been needing a fresh approach, and Donatelli’s sharp focus here on pop-oriented songs delivered in a contemporary jazz manner brings that. The caveat here is that she steps far afield of the maudlin state of “contemporary jazz,” making something that might be seen as a savior to adult contemporary music.
Donatelli’s voice is an exceptional instrument. She never overuses her considerable chops and instead delivers a master class in small spaces with her duets with Ameudo on “Not Like This” and “Day Dream.” In keeping with Art Pepper’s adage to “Never start a show or an album with a ballad,” she swings on “Big Noise, New York,” with saxophonist Bob Sheppard doing what he does best – tearing it up on tenor. Donatelli, and by extension, Keezer, are on to something with Find a Heart, and it will be much fun for us to find it with them.