Jazz History Online – Thomas Cuniffe
Written By Thomas Cuniffe
The bio on Denise Donatelli’s website states that she alternates jazz and adult contemporary styles with ease. Her new album “Find a Heart” hovers between those two worlds and with good reason: Donatelli covers a number of pop/rock songs written within the last three decades by jazz-savvy songwriters like Donald Fagan, Sting, Russell Ferrante and Jeremy Lubbock. Most of the time, Donatelli and her pianist-arranger Geoffrey Keezer avoid the temptation to move these songs into straight-ahead jazz arrangements. Instead, they let the two genres feed off each other while discovering the common ground between them. This method allows the songs to retain something of their original style, while also allowing Donatelli’s rhythm section Keezer, Leonardo Amuedo, Carlitos del Puerto, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith, and guest artists Chris Botti, Bob Sheppard and Christine Jensen opportunities to improvise. Donatelli’s voice has an edgy quality that works well with these pop songs, but she reveals her jazz roots throughout the disc with a flexible, swinging approach to the rhythm and a willingness to take chances with the melodies. The rhythm section does a marvelous job of balancing the straight-eighth and swing feels, making subtle changes that are only noticed after the fact. Sting’s “Practical Arrangement” works particularly well with this hybrid style, as does Fagan’s “Big Noise, New York” and Beck’s “Eyes That Say I Love You”. I’m less impressed with the David Crosby-penned title track (the seesawing rhythmic feel gets monotonous), and I wonder whether Journey’s “Troubled Child” truly belongs on this album. However, the duet treatments offered on an old song (Billy Strayhorn’s “Daydream”) and a newer one (Lubbock’s “Not Like This”) illuminate the continuum in songwriting styles, and that might be the best point Donatelli makes with this exceptionally conceived album.