Variety of songs and settings are indeed a spice to the music on vocalist Denise Donatelli’s latest Savant album, When Lights Are Low. With pianist Geoffrey Keezer providing the musical direction, she is joined by Keezer on piano, guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Jan Wikan who are on most of the selections along with appearances by Ingrid Jensen and Ron Blake amongst others with a string section added to some selections and one track being with just Keezer.
A bright, brisk I Wish I Were In Love Again is a nice opening track displaying her clean and crisp articulation and her ability to embellish with some horn-like phrasing and scatting with a smart, swinging background. The mood changes with strings adding a cushion to her sensuous rendition of Billy Holiday’s Don’t Explain. her delivery seems somewhat deliberate here, but not forced and in addition to the strings providing the mood, Ingrid Jensen’s flugelhorn helps the mood of the performance that, Jim Wilke in the liner notes, observes becomes less a song of a lost affair as a song of forgiveness. Ron Blake’s tenor is added to the quartet for a smart interpretation of When The Lights Are Low, while backing vocals, cello and bass clarinet provide accents to the lively bossa nova rendition of Sting’s “Big Lie, Small World, that again displays her ability to sound so natural in her phrasing and enunciation.
Backed by just Keezer, the ballad Why Did I Choose You? displays her ability to express her feelings in an almost effortless manner. The small string section returns along with Blake on soprano sax for “Kisses (Cantor da Noite), while Julia Dollisson’s Forward, Like So, is the only song not arranged by Keezer, but by the composer (who sings as part of the backup vocals) with Keezer is on piano and Fender Rhodes supporting the delivery of the lyrics along with her wordless solo. The Telephone Song, has her breezily deliver the light lyric as guitarist Sprague and Wikan (on pandeiro) provide lively Brazilian tinged accompaniment. The only prior rendition of The Bed I Made was apparently by Bonnie Raitt but one assumes the blues-rooted rocker lent it a different flavor than Donatelli’s version on this reflective ballad.
Cedar Walton’s Enchantment (Firm Roots) ends this recording on a livelier note as Sprague’s guitar brisk solo serves to echo Donatelli’s horn like phrasing of the lyric here. Its a strong conclusion to When Lights Are Low, which is simply a superbly sung and performed vocal jazz recording.
I wrote this review for Jazz & Blues Report. That publication provided me with my review copy. Here is a promotional video where Denise talks about this recording.