If, among contemporary pianists, Brad Mehldau and Bill Charlap represent the gold standard, then Deanna Witkowski deservedly ranks as their sterling sister. Echoing Mehldau’s genre-blurring vivacity and Charlap’s harmonic sophistication, the classically trained Witkowski textures her increasingly assured playing with the Latin and African influences she adores and the sacred themes she lives by. That she sings, too, in a reedy voice that’s no match for her keyboard authoritativeness but is intriguingly arresting nonetheless, is simply enrichment to her hearty musical stew.
On this, her third album as leader (available only at deannajazz.com), she teams with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Dave Ambrosio and drummer Vince Cherico on an intoxicatingly bubbly “Straight, No Chaser,” infuses “In the Still of the Night” with starlight twinkle and filters “I’m Beginning to See the Light” through a multihued prism. It is, though, two less obvious choices–the jaunty “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo,” lifted from a 1953 Leslie Caron musical and slowed to a snail’s pace, and the Sherman brothers’ winsome “Feed the Birds” (from Mary Poppins)–coupled with the self-penned title track (based on the biblical account of St. Paul’s conversion) that best reflect the gentle humanity of Witkowksi’s jazz soul.