Deanna Witkowski takes the spiritual road on From This Place through gospel, Catholic liturgy, blues and jazz, and 19th century text to which she has written music.
Sacred music and jazz have come together through Mary Lou Williams and Duke Ellington, to name two, while John Coltrane brought in his own ardent beliefs to several of his compositions. Witkowski's sacerdotal calling is strongly manifested, particularly in the sincerity of her singing.
"Let My Prayer Rise (Psalm 141)" is a gospel tune with Donny McCaslin laying the groove on the tenor saxophone. His warmth embraces the innate fervor with Witkowski adding to the impact with her pure, soaring voice. McCaslin is comfortable in several situations and this is one more for him; he makes it a memorable experience.
Laila Biali and Kate McGarry join Witkowski on the a capella "Never Before," the purity of their harmonies circling and descending in a cloak of velvet. The words, written by Witkowski, are a testament to her faith and sound unabashedly naked in their sensibility; they harken back to the time when the human soul sought the spirit of the Lord and found communion with it. The mood is relaxed when Peter Eldridge turns up for a quartet to take on the joyous "Keep in Mind" accompanied by the piano and a melodic turn of phrase on the electric bass by John Patitucci. The juxtaposition of the two works well with the intensity of the first being calmed by the relaxing timbre of the second.
The modern does not escape her and Witkowski gives "Take My Life and Let it Be" and "Song of Simeon" straightforward contemporary turns. They are intensely personal evocations, but "Take My Life and Let It Be" may be in better form because of the harmonies.
Witkowski comes up solidly on the side of faith and those who lean towards religious music will be rewarded.
Track Listing: Let My Prayer Rise (Psalm 141); I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say; From This Place; Evening Mass: Kyrie; Evening Mass: Gloria; Evening Mass: Sanctus; Evening Mass: Agnus Dei; O, the Deep, Deep Love; Christ the Light; Never Before; Make Your Wonders Known; Pass Me Not; Keep In Mind; Take My Life and Let It Be; Song of Simeon.
Personnel: Deanna Witkowski: piano, vocals; Donny McCaslin: soprano and tenor saxophones; John Patitucci: acoustic and electric basses; Scott Latzky: drums; Laila Biali: vocals (5, 7, 10, 13); Peter Eldridge: vocals (5, 7, 13); Kate McGarry: vocals (5, 7, 10, 13).
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.