Everything about In The Company of Friends is first class. For one thing, there is a sense of balance: between comfortable material and challenging reinvention, between brilliantly conceived arrangements (never cluttered) and sparse backgrounds, between ensemble playing and soloing, between singer and accompanist. Each tune is a fresh scenario with its own message, especially in the rhythm department. I've been playing the CD over and over since I got it, and I'm still not tired of it.
Denise Donatelli moved to Los Angeles recently from Atlanta. This is her first CD, and it came out of a working relationship with Tom Garvin. Her natural sound is out of the classic tradition of interpreting lyrics, but she sings about life in the new millennium. I cringed when I noticed yet another "Send in the Clowns, but it turned out to be my favorite cut. Instead of treating it as a dramatic showstopper, Donatelli and Garvin give it a subversive feel, possibly not far from Sondheim's original intent, with Donatelli floating wonderfully over the insistent rhythm and bending notes for meaning.
There is also humor (the broader variety) in "A Roarin' Borin' Alice, a Dave Frishberg-like original by Garvin and Pat Cooper. "If You Could See Me Now, a contrast to the ironic feel of some songs, features intimate storyteller Donatelli in a three-way dialog with Garvin and Brian Scanlon. A completely overhauled "Green Dolphin Street over a simmering modern tango rhythm is maybe the most interesting piece musically, with a new harmonic scheme and frequent key changes. An up-tempo "Dream Dancing also has a Latin backdrop, more evolved than the usual Cole Porter bolero, and there's a hint of "Pent-up House. Donatelli's marvelous sense of swing is front and center on "This is New, a cut that also features burning solos by Clay Jenkins and Bob Sheppard. She creatively recomposes the melody on a blues-tinged "Sleepin' Bee, generating some tension and urgency in the process.
The band, premier musicians all, plays with particular conviction and crispness. There are no throwaway solos.
The CD release party is set for July 13 at Catalina's with the entire band.
On Green Dolphin Street, The Thrill Is Gone, Round Midnight, You Don't Know What Love Is, A Sleepin' Bee, Send In The Clowns, This Is New, If You Could See Me Now, Dream Dancing, A Roarin' Borin' Alice, When Summer Turns to Snow
Denise Donatelli - vocals, Tom Garvin - piano/arranger, Clay Jenkins - trumpet, Bob Sheppard - reeds, Andy Martin - trombone, Tom Peterson -tenor, Brian Scanlon -alto flute, Peter Woodford - guitar, Tom Warrington - bass, Steve Houghton - drums, Brian Kilgore -percussion.