Don't confuse Deanna Witkowski's youthful exuberance for lack of musical erudition. On her spirited debut album, Having to Ask
, the twenty-something pianist/singer/composer exhibits a wide-ranging musical knowledge that belies her tender years.
Nearly everything Witkowski does has a strong Afro/Caribbean taste, reflecting her study with Cuban pianists like Chucho Valdes and time spent in Africa. She even turns a Charlie Parker blues ("Au Privave") into a salsa number. Her original compositions, like the opening "Happening at Once" and the title cut, are complex and colorful, with a catchy, contemporary feel.
Her hushed, Chet Baker-style vocals are featured on a handful of cuts, mostly in the form of wordless scatting along with the melody a practice that could be annoying, but in Witkowski's quiet, unobtrusive delivery, is quite effective. She also turns in an impressive performance at the piano. A highlight is her stirring solo recital of the ballad, "Blame It On My Youth" (an appropriate choice for the young artist), rendered with subtlety, grace and consummate skill. Backed by a talented small ensemble (trio plus saxophone and Latin percussion), Witkowski makes a sparkling debut.