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Deanna Witkowski: Length of Days

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Deanna Witkowski began her musical journey on the classical side, studying piano and flute. In college jazz called, first on the saxophone, then through piano lessons from Chucho Valdes and Hilario Duran. Length of Days, Witkowski's third release as a leader, opens with "Beautiful Hands," inspired by a compliment given to her by Billy Childs. High praise from such an accomplished fellow pianist/composer, but he could just as well have remarked on a beautiful throat to compliment Witkowski's vocal prowess. She uses her voice to color her arrangements with vibrant hues, whether on her wordless, melifluous chant on the opener, or lyrically on the title tune that bemoans spiritual empiness—inspired, reportedly, on the pianist's meditations on the New Testament image of St. Peter's blinding conversion.

Witkowski's teaming with saxophonist Donny McCaslin (who was nominated for a Grammy for his work on Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden) is a key to this disc's success. Witkowski the arranger crafts complex harmonies, and her voice and McCaslin's soprano saxophone sound as if they were created to play together, a magical blend in harmony, with McCaslin extending the vocalist's phrases with an inspired improvisational logic.

Cole Porter's "In the Still of the Night" gets a piano trio treatment, with Witkowski taking the melody up and twisting it around a bit, an uplifting stretch. Much of Witkowski's sound is shaded by her spirituality, but she gets deep into the jazz religion with Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," with McCaslin trading in the smooth-flowing soprano for a beefy tenor sax, blowing down and dirty while Witkowski plays light and clean behind him.

The disc closes with Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light," with McCaslin again on tenor, giving way to an uplifting, Chucho-esque arrangement, the rhythm bubbling, Witkowski stepping light and pretty."

Following Maria Schneider's lead, Length of Days is an ArtistShare release, available only on Witkowski's website.

Track Listing: Beautiful Hands; Hi-Lili, Hi-LO; Straight, No Chaser, Length of Days; Prayer for Linda; In the Still of the Night; Feed the Birds; Song for Sarah; I'm Beginning to See the Light.

Personnel: Deanna Witkowski: piano, vocal; Donny McCaslin: soprano and tenor saxophones; Dave Ambrosio: bass; Vince Cherico: drums.

Title: Length of Days | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: ArtistShare

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