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Music Review: Denise Donatelli – What Lies Within

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Aptly, Denise Donatelli begins What Lies Within with a tune called “My Shining Hour.” Brimming with confidence and common sense, she is a jazz vocalist with purpose.

What Lies Within is her second record, her first with Savant Records. Joined by a company of Los Angeles jazz session players, Donatelli takes the forefront with style and panache, providing illuminating vocals that gently walk the line between energetic scat-singing and luminous balladry. She accomplishes a warm balance with her singing, offering something for everyone.

Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Donatelli was ensconced in music from an early age. She took classical piano lessons, winning numerous awards at competitions. Despite having to learn the complicated arpeggios and scales of classical music, though, her love of jazz filled her spirit.

That love for jazz is evident when Donatelli sings, as each note opens with the vibrancy of a lush flower and holds with the precision of a long-time student of the art. With picture-perfect pitch and a crystalline quality to her higher notes, she presents a vocal palette that is appealing, energetic, enticing, and sensual.

Despite firmly standing in front of the session players, Donatelli’s voice is as much an instrument as Bob Sheppard’s sax or Geoffrey Keezer’s piano. She delves beautifully into the music, owning each phrase with her sense of timing and sliding alongside the players with grace.

The beautiful “Crystal Silence” is a perfect example of this, as Donatelli’s voice eases through the passages of the song with silkiness. Keezer’s arrangement is gorgeous, melding this Chick Corea tune with Donatelli’s voice for truly haunting, touching results.

“Be Cool” is a funky, slinky, and, of course, cool track that unfolds with finger-snapping goodness. The Keezer-written “Four Walls” is a sad, lyrical song that finds Donatelli stretching out emotionally with a passionate “Where are you now?” intonation over the melody. “I’ll always love you,” she says over a song that evokes a deep, lonesome city.

As Donatelli’s vocals soothingly converse with the other instruments, “This Lament” tenderly closes the album, eliciting visions of barkeeps stacking chairs and closing down after a busy night.

Denise Donatelli is a mesmerizing jazz vocalist, in command of her expressive instrument while offering her heart and soul with each note. There is kind-heartedness and a quiet beauty to these songs, which allow a true sense of artistry to emerge. Quite simply, What Lies Within is an elegant, beautiful album.

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