Dena DeRose, Live At Jazz Standard Volume One

by Jeff Becker

Pianist/vocalist Dena DeRose and her trio (Martin Wind on bass and Matt Wilson on drums) certainly have developed a swinging, communicative and multi-layered sound that is very enjoyable from an instrumental standpoint. Unfortunately DeRose’s vocals fall short in comparison to her piano skills. Granted all instrumentalists sing their parts in their head first and then transfer that sound to their instrument, but that does not necessarily mean they are skilled as a vocalist in quality of tone, pitch control or ability to convey an emotive storyline within the song. DeRose is certainly a more than apt pianist and clearly articulates that on her latest release Live at Jazz Standard.

As a recording artist, Dena has 5 CDs to her credit, all of which have received extensive accolades. On this latest MaxJazz offering, Live at Jazz Standard, Volume One, DeRose and crew run through a program of well-placed standards and a DeRose co-authored cut that truly showcases the trio’s instrumental chemistry as a strong unit.

The first cut, “Speak Low,” a Nash and Weil standard, is taken at a reverent speed showcasing DeRose’s dexterity and intelligent harmonic choices on the piano. Wilson displays an interactive and well-spoken voice in the trio mix, while Wind keeps a solid foundation for the trio to catapult from. DeRose’s delivery vocally stabs quickly at the melody, creating a lack luster tribute to the composers beautifully written lyrics of love and longing. “This is Love,” a DeRose and Philippe Petrucciani original, exhibits a breathtaking plot of love from a distance. Lyrically this is an outstanding cut, but regrettably DeRose’s vocal falls short from a pitch standpoint with her falsetto register. Additionally her re-entrance after a succession of solos is forced and sounds strained, detracting from the overall concept of the message.

“Get Out of Town” is a jaunty tune that lies nicely with the trio as a deep-swinging instrumental presentation. Written by standard giant Cole Porter, the cut drives with force and verve, highlighting DeRose as a stellar and fiery pianist. Wilson’s cymbal work is outstanding, lending a dynamic and high-energy feel to the cut. DeRose is much more at home vocally within this cut from a phrasing standpoint, but still lacks the bite needed to really sell the cut. Her voice feels underdeveloped tonally, and as she enters the form after the solos her voice is pinched to reach the notes. Even though she is executing the notes technically, the quality of voice exhibits a mid-range and nasal characteristic.

Saxophonist Joel Frahm joins the mix on “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” peppering the track with emotive lines that add to the moodiness of the piece. The group aptly supports Frahm as he weaves a gorgeous tapestry. DeRose again is at moments clearly at the bottom of her range, especially at the end of the form on the phrase “I fall in love too fast.” To her credit DeRose is unique in her vocal phrasing and delivery, which focuses on a very matter-of-fact presentation on each cut and you can hear her attempt to articulate the texture of a horn player, but in my opinion she has not developed the breath or control abilities she exhibits on piano.
Many of the tracks are laced with pitch deficient notes and unclear execution of the lines. To say they are “blue” notes would really be a stretch. This is not to detract from her piano abilities, which she clearly has developed with great control and emotion, but to compare her to other vocalists on the Maxxjazz label like Carla Cook, LaVerne Butler or even pianist/vocalist Christine Hitt, I would have to say that vocals are a work in progress for DeRose. I would love to hear an all-instrumental album in the future from this artist, with possibly a guest vocalist on a few cuts, to focus on Dena’s true strength, which is piano.

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