Loathe as one might be to admit it, there are far too many singers today who consider themselves jazz vocalists. The fact of the matter is it is far too easy to scat a few lines, come up with some nouveau riche lyrics, and press your album at 45 rpm than to really function as a vital musician that also happens to vocalize. Herein rests the problem, often abetted by the hype that only the media can do far too well. Flash and fury signifying nothing often entices an uninformed audience.
Dena DeRose is so far removed from this type of thing that it comes as no surprise that she consistently lies below the radar of all but the most astute jazz followers. However, this should not be misconstrued as if to suggest that DeRose is too cerebral or "out there" to be accessible to the average listener. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Over the course of the dozen albums she has recorded since landing in New York in 1991, DeRose has consistently proven herself as a singular pianist and vocalist with a depth of scope that is really something to hear.
Dena's trio mates here go way back and their telepathic camaraderie is self-evident. Specifically, 2005's Walk in the Park debuted this trio featuring bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson. Collectively they have no problem sinking their teeth into two hard bop trinkets. Wayne Shorter's "United" seems like an odd choice for vocalizing on, yet DeRose pens her own words and it all works perfectly fine. Guest Ingrid Jensen adds a splash of color here and on Horace Silver's "Peace" with her piquant trumpet work. Cedar Walton's "Clockwise" also sports original lyrics from Dena, plus we get to hear her ability to scat in unison with her right hand piano lines.
Some tasteful studio trickery adds a nice echo effect on Dena's vocals for the Carole King chestnut "So Far Away." The darkly rich atmosphere adds much to this album highlight. In terms of DeRose's piano chops, there is much to admire, particularly in her solo spots on "United," "I'm Glad There Is You," and her own "Simple Song of Love." Another extra guest, guitarist Peter Bernstein provides the lush backdrop to "Only the Lonely" and then heats things up for the briskly swinging "Sunny."
Of course it almost goes without saying that the ubiquitous Wilson and Wind are integral to the proceedings. Talk about your old saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Wilson's organic approach comes from the fact that he doesn't use set patterns or grooves. He approaches each piece as if working with a blank canvas. It must certainly help that Wind holds down the bottom with supreme solidity and finesse.
Here's hoping that DeRose has found a good thing with HighNote that shall continue. Maybe soon, those in the dark will be enlightened and join the ranks of those who already know what a special thing DeRose has to offer.
United; Only the Lonely; Clockwise; So Far Away; I'm Glad There Is You; Simple Song of Love; Peace; Sunny; Not You Again.
Dena DeRose: piano & vocals; Martin Wind: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet (tracks 1 & 7 only); Peter Bernstein: guitar (tracks 2 & 8 only).
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