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Jazz Review

Rick DellaRatta Tries to Live Up to Expectations

March 16, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a relatively low-visibility performer arrives in town preceded by ads that describe him as "The Premier Singer/Instrumentalist in Jazz," expectations are understandably high. We are, after all, speaking of a category that includes, among others, Shirley Horn, Diana Krall, Harry Connick and John Pizzarelli.

But that's the way large ads from his record company have described singer/pianist Rick Della-Ratta recently in magazines such as Down Beat. So, when he opened a six-night run at Catalina Bar & Grill Tuesday night in the company of an accomplished, well-established group of musicians--bassist Eddie Gomez, drummer Lenny White and alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune--it was hard to know what to anticipate.

As it turned out, DellaRatta offered some attractive playing, well-crafted with strong traces of influence from McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans. His most interesting excursions took place in a pair of originals, a free-jazz styled work titled "Lust Life" and a set of variations on a Japanese folk song. Fortune took advantage of his solo space to rove freely through an envelope-stretching improvisation. And Gomez and White--by any measure a world-class rhythm team--kept the time flowing throughout, even during moments when a bit more rehearsal time seemed in order.

DellaRatta's vocals were a different matter. His renderings of "Speak Low" and "Waltz for Debby" were marginally convincing in their better passages, more often abrasive and edgy. Neither interpretation revealed the sort of attractive vocal timbre and storytelling capabilities that are the minimal requirements for effective jazz singing.

Given the quality of his work, DellaRatta would seem to have two alternatives: Tone down the rhetoric of his advertising and concentrate on developing his piano playing, which is where his real potential lies. Or move into the less demanding pop-music mode present on some of his album tracks.

*

* The Rick DellaRatta Trio featuring Eddie Gomez and Lenny White and special guest Sonny Fortune at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd. Tonight and Saturday at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., $15 cover. Two-drink minimum. (323) 466-2210.

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