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Denise Donatelli: Find a Heart

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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There was once a best-selling non-fiction book titled The Road Less Traveled (Simon & Schuster, 1978). In it, author, M. Scott Peck, discussed human potential. With Find a Heart vocalist Denise Donatelli and her frequent collaborator, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, explore a repertoire that is unchartered for a jazzer. And, the decision to venture on this musical path yields a fascinating and beautifully rewarding aural journey.

The L.A.-based singer, Grammy-nominated multiple times, is as good here as she's ever been. Boldly going where few jazz vocalists have trod before, she performs selections from rockers Steely Dan, Journey, Sting, and others. No disingenuous and feeble attempt at "crossing over," Donatelli, Keezer and a world-class rhythm unit stick to their jazz roots and offer eleven selections (two of which are known jazz standards) that are so brilliantly presented that, unless you knew the source material, you'd think they also were jazz originals.

Donatelli is on her game vocally, delivering melody and lyric line with emotional integrity and elegance. She's got a gorgeous, come-hither voice and a terrific sense of dynamic nuance. She's a swinger, not a phony rocker and that's to her credit. She sees the poetic in the material and she milks it superbly. Donatelli's two duo cuts—one with talented guitarist Leonardo Amuedo ("Not Like This") and the other Billy Strayhorn's "Daydream"—are drop-dead heavenly. The material across the board vividly demonstrates her significant textural range.

Launching with Smith's kicking set work and saxophonist Bob Sheppard's wailing entry on Steely Dan's "Big Noise, New York," Donatelli sirens that this is going to be a unique day at the mine. And, with Keezer grabbing the arranging reins, they find gold immediately. Keezer, who tours actively with trumpeter Chris Botti, (who makes a Harmonized cameo) is a gifted performer and arranger whose ability to source and re-work material is uncanny. As an accompanist and otherwise, the guy is a savant. Drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith's brilliant set-work shows why he's beyond in-demand in the studios. The addition of the strings is a glorious production touch ("Love and Paris Rain," and "Troubled Child").

Find a Heart offers outstanding performances and great listening. This is a road well worth traveling. It's definitely paved "Au"ral. Look it up.

Track Listing: Big Noise, New York; Love and Paris Rain; Spaced Out (En Babia); Practical Arrangement; Find a Heart: Not Like This; Eyes That Say I Love You; In This Moment; Troubled child; Midnight Sun; Day Dream.

Personnel: Denise Donatelli: vocals; Geoffrey Keezer: piano, arranger; Leonardo Amuedo: guitar; Carlito Del Puerto: bass; Marvin "Smitty" Smith: drums; Walter Rodriquez: percussion; Chris Botti: trumpet; Bob Sheppard: tenor saxophone; Christine Jensen: soprano saxophone; Michael Thompson; guitar; Giovanna Clayton; cello; Alma Fernandez: viola; Matt funes: viola; Darrin McCann: viola; Yutaka Yokokura: background vocals; Sy Smith: background vocals; Julia Dollison: background vocals.

Title: Find a Heart | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Savant Records

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