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Denise Donatelli: Soul Shadows

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Wisely adhering to the if-it-ain’t-broke adage, Denise Donatelli follows up 2008’s What Lies Within and 2010’s Grammy-nominated When Lights Are Low with a third partnership with musical director, arranger and pianist Geoffrey Keezer. The title is taken from the Joe Sample/Will Jennings tune made famous by Bill Withers with the Crusaders (here superbly reimagined as a bossa nova), but also hints at Donatelli’s smoky, transfixing sound.

As on their previous outings, Keezer and Donatelli have assembled a most interesting playlist. Bookended by a slithery “All or Nothing at All” and a gorgeously spare “Too Late Now” are eight wide-ranging tracks. From folksinger Jonatha Brooke and jazz keyboardist Alain Mallet comes the tenderly bruised “No Better.” From the indie duo Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte there’s the coolly laidback “Another Day.” New York Voices’ Peter Eldridge unites with Donatelli on his “Postcards and Messages,” a fascinating duologue as much about what’s left unexpressed in relationships as what’s said. And there are two previously unrecorded gems: the yearning, undulating “A Promise,” built upon Wayne Shorter’s “Someplace Called Where” with a lyric by Dianne Reeves; and “When I Looked Again,” a paean to lasting second impressions from Christian McBride and Sting.

Though Donatelli’s vocals are unfailingly lovely, credit for the album’s potency belongs largely to Keezer. Working with alumni from the earlier albums (guitarist Peter Sprague, percussionist Alex Acuña) and players new to the fold (bassist Carlitos del Puerto, percussionists Walter Rodriguez and Nicholas Stoup), he goes beyond mere arranging to create backdrops that are more like exquisitely detailed paintings.

Originally Published