L.A. - based vocalist Denise Donatelli received a Grammy nod with her second Savant release, When Lights Are Low. While some would argue the luster of the Grammy awards is in desperate need of an overhaul much of the same could be said about the release Soul Shadows. When Lights are Low focused on some most inventive reharms of the most iconic pop standards with jazz sensibilities of our time, Soul Shadows is an eclectic look at vocal jazz straight on with a no frills almost bear bones approach that while solid and accessible, never really gets off the ground under the musical direction of Geoffrey Keezer. Donatelli is a pure unadorned vocalist that does not need to skate by on runs and vocal pyrotechnics in order to garner attention or favorable reviews for that matter, a throw back singer in every sense of the word whose use of phrasing, inflection and impeccable timing set her well ahead of the pack. Oh, she can sing too!
Donatelli is reunited with her Music Director/accompanist Geoffrey Keezer fresh off the latest Joe Locke release which seemingly went no where only to turn in another release full of stellar arrangements and reharms of some old favorites that allow Donatelli's talents to continue to soar as she breathes new life into some tunes that many artists had placed in the jazz witness protection program a long time ago. "All Or Nothing At All" is perhaps the best known standard and clearly starts the release off with an impressive flair which is about where the release begins and ends. "PostCards and Messages" is a standard waiting in the wings from critically acclaimed vocalist Peter Elderidge while "When I Looked Again" is an obscure tune from Christian McBride and Sting that has never seen the light of day and for all too obvious reasons. The problem with Soul Shadows may simply be that as compared to When Lights Are Low the release is overly ambitions. "Postcards And Messages" has writer Peter Eldridge joining in on a lush and rich arrangement of his own song and is in fact one of the three that work the best. "When I Looked Again" with lyrics by Sting not to mention his kind permission to re-record the song has Sting's signature sound all over the tune. A great many of the songs here have either never been released or simply not released in the versions included here which on occasion come dangerously close to the self indulgent. Bad? No...Different? Yes...and different is never bad, just different. The talent here is first call and "A" list without a doubt, the material itself is where the release lacks the staying power of When Lights Are Low. To go from Grammy nod to "polite" nod out of musical respect is a huge fall from grace. Every critic has their favorites and Donatelli is certainly one of mine making this effort all the more disappointing across the board.
Much like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, it is not such a bad little album it just needs a little love! When Lights Are Low set the bar so high that virtually anything other than "Part Two" would fail by reasons of comparison alone.
Personnel: Geoffrey Keezer: piano; Ramon Stagnaro: acoustic guitar; Peter Sprague; Carlitos del Puerto: bass; Alex Acuna: & Nicholas Stoup: percussion; Walter Rodriguez: percussion; Tim Garland: tenor saxophone; Sarah Thornblade & Sonja Lee: violins; Alma Lisa Fernandez & Matt Funes: violas; Giovanna Clayton: cello; Susan Wulff: bass; Steve Huffsteter: trumpet; Yutaka Yokokura: background vocals; Andy Martin: Cello; Yutaka Yokura: background vocals; Denise Donatelli: vocals on all tracks.