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KJ Denhert: Dal Vivo a Umbria Jazz

Nowhere more than in the unpredictable world of jazz is it true that necessity is the mother of invention. Hence Karen Jeanne Denhert’s progress from spandex-clad rock chick to financial analyst for Dannon yogurt to self-invented, self-promoted, self-produced jazz diva (and self-taught guitarist) who formed her own label, Mother Cyclone Records, in 1996 and released six albums before aligning herself with the Harlem-based indie Motéma Music early last year.

Since 2002, Denhert has earned an annual artist-in-residency at Italy’s renowned Umbria Jazz Festival. Dal Vivo, captured at Umbria in 2008 and made possible by a grant from Women in Jazz Inc., marks the first recording of one of her festival performances. For those unfamiliar with the wild-haired songstress, Dal Vivo provides a superb introduction not only to her feisty, soulful Aretha-meets-Joni vibe but also her formidable songwriting skills.

Of the session’s 10 tunes, seven are self-penned, ranging from the self-assurance of “I Got Time” and shrugged acceptance of “He’s Not Coming Home” to the pragmatic wisdom of “Little Problems” and the semi-autobiographical salute to showbiz survival that is “August Clown.” But Denhert is equally good at delivering killer covers, as evidenced here by an aching, folk-rock reading of “Ticket to Ride,” a mellow, dreamy “Over the Rainbow” and an iridescent “Message in a Bottle” that rivals The Police’s original.

Originally Published