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December 2008

Denise Donatelli
What Lies Within
Savant

Three years ago, Pennsylvania-born, L.A.-based singer Denise Donatelli made a propitious debut with In the Company of Friends, an album significantly enhanced by the participation of Tom Gavin as pianist, arranger and producer. Now, with a change of labels, Donatelli has jettisoned all the friends from Friends (save saxophonist and flautist Bob Sheppard), handing Gavin’s triple role to Geoffrey Keezer. And the results are … even better. Where Friends leaned heavily toward time-honored standards, What Lies Within is filled with a marvelously interesting assortment of less obvious selections.

In a double nod to Brazil, there’s Milton Nascimento’s joyous “Make This City Ours Tonight” taken at a dreamy pace, and a treatment of Ivan Lins’ “Sails” that sounds precisely like a sleek catamaran slicing through mirror-still waters beneath a full, glorious sun. Donatelli serves up a perfectly simmered “Be Cool” that, as Joni Mitchell’s lyric recommends, is 50/50 fire and ice, bounces through a reading of Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud” with the boppin’ verve of Annie Ross, plunges deeply into the persistent heartbreak of J.J. Johnson and Meredith d’Ambrosio’s “This Lament” and gorgeously navigates both the foggy angularity of Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence” and the romantic desolation of Keezer’s “Four Walls.” Dorothy and Donald Brown’s shimmering “I Love It When You Dance That Way,” enriched by Sheppard’s cascading sax, is reimagined as a feather-light samba, and Donatelli wisely appreciates that “We’ll Be Together Again” is best delivered with a dollop of lingering doubt.

All in all, as career steps go, What Lies Within represents a significant leap forward.

Originally published in December 2008
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