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Dena DeRose:
Live at the Algonquin

By Heidi W. Moore

Photo Courtesy Dena DeRose  
The darkly paneled and subtly lit Oak Room at New York City's Algonquin Hotel is the ideal venue in which to hear pianist, jazz musician, and singer Dena DeRose. A five-week engagement, "Made for the Movies: A Hollywood Songbook," recently brought together three singers of diverse experience and style—DeRose, Bill Henderson, and singer/pianist Eric Comstock—to present guests with a wonderful evening of pop and jazz standards written for films of the 1930s through 1960s.

Performing to a mixed crowd of middle-aged Broadway and cabaret aficionados, the trio brought to life the work of composers and songwriters Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini and Harry Warren, as well as jazz legends Duke Ellington and Johnny Mandel (both of whom wrote and performed classics for the movies). Henderson sounds like a cross between Johnny Mercer, Joe Carroll and Lou Rawls—his experience with jazz luminaries such as Count Basie, Miles Davis and Quincy Jones was evident in his crooning. Comstock took the lead in many of the show tunes in true "performer" style, and both complemented the confidence of Ms. DeRose's feminine and ladylike manner.

Lots of slow melodic show tunes with a few up-tempo swingier numbers sprinkled throughout provided a perfect showcase for Ms. DeRose's great vocal range; especially impressive was her scat vocalization over her own piano accompaniment. The sound of both DeRose and Comstock on pianos, joined by bass and drums, was only a bit more complex than, say, Slim & Slam or the Oscar Peterson Trio, with whom Henderson has cut a disc. The threesome maintained a lighthearted verbal exchange between numbers, with pitter-patter jokes, a comfortable repartee and historical reminiscences that flowed well.

A few of the tunes that Ms. DeRose performed so beautifully at The Oak Room, such as "If I Should Lose You," can be found on her three albums for Sharp Nine Records, including the most recent, I Can See Clearly Now. A collection of upbeat standard and not so standard selections, this release is the opposite end of the spectrum from her second album, Another World (1999), which displayed the soulful and sorrowful side of the performer. But that doesn't mean I Can See Clearly Now is sappy or one dimensional; instead, it has the wistful "If I Should Lose You" and two Latin-flavored numbers, "Detour Ahead" and "With a Smile." Ms. DeRose's natural sparkle can be heard in "Day In Day Out" and "I've Never Been in Love Before" (with its scatting and piano accompaniment) and the undeniable swing of "Touch of Your Lips." A duet between voice and vibe closes the effort in a stunning display of skill and command, and brings the collection full circle. The cheery and light demeanor that pervades the CD is trademark of Ms. Derose's voice, through which one can hear optimism and warmth.

In addition to being a compelling vocal stylist, Ms. DeRose is an accomplished jazz pianist and a sophisticated arranger and composer. Her piano playing is as distinctive as her mellifluous voice, and she is responsible for arranging most of the show tunes she performs, rendering them fresh and memorable. Toronto jazz lovers will have the opportunity to see the Dena DeRose Trio at the Canadian Jazz Expo on November 2. Otherwise, those fortunate enough to be traveling to either Italy or the West Coast next month will be able to catch Ms. DeRose on tour.

For more information, including tour dates and sample tracks, visit www.jazzcorner.com/derose.

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