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Denise Donatelli: In the Company of Friends

Fortune smiled on newcomer Denise Donatelli when pianist Tom Garvin agreed to arrange and produce her debut disc. That’s not to suggest Donatelli, whose only previous professional experience was fronting a trio in an Atlanta hotel lounge, couldn’t have made it on her own. She’s blessed with a pure, powerful voice that suggests the rock-solid assurance and keen intelligence of Ann Hampton Callaway tempered with a soupcon of Lena Horne.

But, despite the accolades being heaped on her by such knowledgeable listeners as Mark Murphy and Phil Woods, it takes more than just an above-average voice to lift one’s self above the pack. Enter Garvin, who places Donatelli in 11 exquisitely tailored settings as consistently dynamic as they are impressively different. In Garvin’s masterful hands (and with marvelous support from bassist Tom Warrington, drummer Steve Houghton and a phalanx of first-rate guests), “Dream Dancing” is transformed into a dazzling, down-filled reverie, “‘Round Midnight” unfolds like eight minutes of classic film noir and, most laudable of all, “A Sleepin’ Bee,” swaddled in layers of both lace and buckram, rivals the gently swinging verve of the version Nancy Wilson recorded with Cannonball Adderley in 1962.

Originally Published