DENA DEROSE: THE BUZZ
As a teenager, Dena DeRose played and sang for two years at a hotel bar in her hometown of Binghampton, New York. She soon developed a regular following who came to hear her sing and play standards on an old upright Wurlitzer piano. On her newest album, "Travelin' Light", DeRose returns to her musical roots, but in an enviable and idealized setting. Recorded over three nights at the Chromatic Attic in Antwerp, DeRose performs for a handpicked audience on a gloriously tuned and voiced Steinway grand. Vocally and instrumentally, DeRose's style might be tabbed "organic" for it seems simple and basic at the roots, but it produces remarkable blooms of melodic and harmonic beauty. Her inventions stand in bold relief against her basic style, so that the listener takes notice at a rhapsodic piano improvisation (as on "Blue in Green"), a daring vocal exploration (in "East of the Sun") or a dynamic unison bop line for piano and voice (on "I'm Old-Fashioned").
DeRose loves to resurrect neglected standards, and she has found a gem in the Arthur Hamilton/Johnny Mandel song, "I Never Told You". DeRose's understated vocal is a perfect match for this song, letting the listener discover the underlying story of the lyrics and its surprising turns. Another highlight is her version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Portrait in Black and White". Not many singers attempt this piece due to the melody's ever-changing maze of chromatic intervals. DeRose sings the tricky song with absolute accuracy, and instead of the original Portuguese lyrics, she performs a touching set of English lyrics by Roger Shore. Even for those who have heard the song before, DeRose's version provides a renewed sense of discovery. There is one further point to make about these pieces: after each of the above songs, DeRose segues into another song that's a little better known. The segue from "I Never Told You" to "Twilight World" is direct and simple, but "Portrait" ends with an indefinite-sounding piano figure which DeRose lets ring for several seconds before starting "Why Did I Choose You?" In both cases, we expect applause between the tunes, but the audience waits, and the resulting juxtaposition is stunning. I'm not sure if this is how it happened live, but it is very effective on the recording. This album is loaded with wonderful moments and surprises. Get yourself a copy and enjoy!
- Thomas Cunniffe, JazzHistoryOnline.com