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Dena DeRose and Elizabeth Shepherd: Singin' Piano Players

C. Michael Bailey By

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Pianists/vocalists Dena DeRose and Elizabeth Shepherd illustrate different sides of the same coin with Travelin' Light—Live in Antwerp, Belgium and Rewind. The former is a sturdy statement of standards presented solo live in the cozy and organic confines of a European venue. The latter is a studio marvel by an inventive risk-taker walking on a jazz high wire. Together, the two guarantee the viability and fertility of jazz vocals.

Dena DeRose

Travelin' Light—Live in Antwerp, Belgium

MAXJAZZ

2012

DeRose made an auspicious entry into the jazz market with her 1998 debut, Introducing Dena DeRose (Sharp Nine). Since that time, the pianist/vocalist has split her recordings between Sharp Nine and MAXJAZZ, where she has recorded several critically acknowledged discs including her two-volume trio live set recorded at New York City's Jazz Standard Volume 1 (2007) and Volume 2 (2008).

True to the title, DeRose travels light to Antwerp to record a baker's dozen of standards, just her and her piano. DeRose performs with complete confidence in her acutely fine talent for arrangement. DeRose propels "Nice N' Easy" with a firm, walking left hand while caressing the piano through "Two Different Worlds." Her wordless vocals on "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" and "I'm Old Fashioned" and near whispered delivery of the title piece juxtapose well with her relaxed, conversational singing on "S'Wonderful" and "Why Did I Choose You?"

DeRose steps out of the box for an overtly impressionistic reading of Miles Davis's "Blue in Green" (lyrics by Meredith d'Ambrosio). Her piano introduction is lengthy, fully establishing a dream sequence before she sings the brief lyrics. It is a satisfying nap on a rainy day.

Elizabeth Shepherd

Rewind

Linus

2012

Where DeRose's performance is steeped in tradition, Shepherd tosses tradition into the air like confetti on New Year's Eve. First, she teases a bit. The packaging of Rewind is made to simulate a late '50s-early '60s jazz LP jacket, replete with liner notes on the back. But the cover is the only thing retro about Rewind. Shepherd, who is also a prolific composer, follows her successful Heavy Falls The Night (Do It Right, 2010) with this smart and measured collection of standards and near-standards.

The opening "Love For Sale" is like nothing Cole Porter could have ever imagined except that he would have been flattered and delighted in equal measure. Shepherd opens the classic with an abbreviated "Mr. Sandman" vocal loop, establishing a staccato-paced velocity that she follows vocally, just behind the beat. Her inclusion of a Wurlitzer electric piano gives the piece a '70s forward-sounding feel, but this is just a mirage. Shepherd shape- shifts styles, eras, genre. "Les Amoureux Des Bancs Publics" is blissfully Weimar European, Andrew Downing's cello and double-bass providing all the accompaniment.

Saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's "Sack O' Woe" is also deep-string motivated with more of Shepherd's provocative vocal looping. Mel Torme's "Born To Be Blue" is as thoroughly updated as "Love For Sale." The piece is hip and sharp in that modern sepia way. Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" is spare and warm in duet with fellow-Canadian vocalist Denzal Sinclaire: all honey and Quaaludes.

Tracks and Personnel

Travelin' Light—Live in Antwerp, Belgium

Tracks: Nice 'n Easy; 'S Wonderful; Two Different Worlds; East of the Sun (and West of the Moon); Portrait in Black and White; Why Did I Choose You?; How Little We Know; Travelin' Light; Blue in Green; I'm Old Fashioned; I Never Told You; Twilight World; We Will Meet Again.

Personnel: Dena DeRose: piano, vocals.

Rewind

Tracks: Love For Sale; Lonely House; Les amoureux des bancs publics; Feeling Good; Midnight Sun; Pourquoi tu vis; Sack of Woe; Buzzard Song; When You Are Near; Born To Be Blue; Prelude To A Kiss.

Personnel: Elizabeth Shepherd: vocals, piano ( 7), rhodes (3 ,6, 10), wurlitzer (1, 8, 11), tuned mixing bowls and muted pestle (9), beatbox (11); Ross MacIntyre: double bass (1, 4, 8-12); Scott Kemp: double bass (3 ,6, 7); Denzal Sinclaire: vocals (12); Kevin Turcotte: trumpet (10); David Travers-Smith: trumpet (12); Reg Schwager: guitar (2); Andrew Downing: cello, double bass (5); Colin Kingmore: drums, percussion; Mark Kelso: drums (11).

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