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Denise Donatelli and Geoffrey Keezer Quartet: Half Moon Bay, CA, April 13, 2013

Bill Leikam By

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Denise Donatelli and Geoffrey Keezer Quartet
Douglas Beach House aka Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society/
Concert
Half Moon Bay, California

April 21, 2013

Two-time Grammy nominee Denise Donatelli once again teamed up with master pianist Geoffrey Keezer for the singer's performance at the Bach Dynamite and Dancing Society. Aside from these two principals, Essiet Essiet from Queens, New York, took charge of the bass. Also from the New York scene, Sylvia Cuenca handled the drums and percussion with an ease and a marked beat that was clearly present but not overwhelming. Hailing from San Diego, Peter Sprague hefted his electrified acoustic guitar and tucked himself in alongside Donatelli and Keezer. Entertained by this powerhouse quartet, the packed house was touched by a wide range of jazz, some from Donatelli's second Grammy-nominated album, Soul Shadows (Savant, 2012).

The concert opened with an unusual instrumental piece with Asian overtones, beginning with Keezer ripping away at the piano until it mellowed into a more easygoing space; then, as it developed, Keezer's fingers returned to working the keyboard, while Sprague kicked his guitar into gear until the two seemed to be talking back and forth with one another. Meanwhile, Cuenca's cymbals and occasional rim shots filled the background, with Essiet keeping the pace.

All of this led to Donatelli taking the stage. By the time Soul Shadows' title tune came, around five songs later, not only was the band running in high gear but so, too, was the audience as evidenced by its intermittent applause. Whereas some of the songs already sung, including Keezer's arrangement of Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain," were dark and moody, "Soul Shadows was much more upbeat, happy and, in places, skipping along. Sprague opened the piece, followed a moment later by Keezer, who swept in Essiet and Cuenca, the rhythm team anchoring the background beat, with Donatelli inviting the audience to join her on the song's refrain, halfway through. Rather than playing with a pick, Sprague simply used his fingers, giving this hit jazz number a soft feel.

Donatelli possessed an engaging stage presence, her smile and demeanor radiating a warm, welcome feel. With her approach and choice of emotionally charged material, she reached out and touched the audience, drawing it into her space. One such resonant tune was Keezer's arrangement of Soul Shadows' "All or Nothing At All," opening with a Latin feel instrumentally—but then, seemingly out of nowhere, Donatelli was there, serving up its lovely lyrics from the depths of her heart. Essiet complemented her feeling, Cuenca riding the tune with her rim shots and rustling cymbals. As Keezer's fingers danced over the keyboard, he paid close attention to Donatelli, supporting her intonation and the lyrics' subtle inflections.

She wrapped up the evening with one of her favorite Joni Mitchell songs, "Be Cool. " An upbeat tune that, as expressed by Donatelli's phrasing, demonstrated her ability to draw the audience into the song's feeling, it gave the concert exactly the kind of ending needed. When the last note was played, the last lyric sung, they stood to give the Denise Donatelli and Geoffrey Keezer Quartet a hearty ovation in appreciation for their remarkable journey.

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