New York pianist/singer/composer Deanna Witkowski is perhaps the leading protégé of the famous Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés. That alone should make most folks stand up and take notice. Her Kheaon Records debut, Wide Open Window, should make the remainder rise. Her music potently reveals the influence of Valdés, but this influence in no way smothers Witkowski’s considerable talent.
The very talented bassist Jonathan Paul and drummer Tom Hipskind support Witkowski on this outing. Saxophonist of the hour Donny McCaslin provides reeds. The music is decidedly Latin-based without being overtly so. The opening piece, Cole Porter’s "All Through the Night" is like a martini with a splash of tequila instead of vermouth: heady, auspicious, and in-your-face. The pianist wants the listener’s attention and gets it right up front. This is not the only Cole Porter song on the disc. She also adds a lengthy investigation of "From This Moment On" and a brisk "Just One of Those Things." These songs in particular illuminate the brilliant control and discipline of Witkowski and her crack rhythm section. The latter shows Paul’s solo chops in a bright light, complemented by drummer Hipskind trading eights with the pianist.
Sprinkled among the standards are Witkowski’s piquant originals, all brimming with enthusiasm and invention. "New August Tune" features McCaslin’s certain American sound against a humid Latin backdrop. Witkowski closes her disc with "Sanctus" or her interpretation of the modern Sanctus ( Holy, Holy, Holy ) from the Roman Catholic Mass, which she capably sings (Witkowski perhaps betraying her Eastern European heritage to this Irish Catholic writer).
I usually start my year-end best of list early and Witkowski’s Wide Open Window will be the first one there for 2003. It is a true joy to hear musicianship of such rarified quality. Everything is exceptional about this recording, the rhythm support, the repertoire, the compositions, and most of all, Deanna Witkowski.
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