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JAZZ REVIEW

Now is the time for her to get vocal

Dena DeRose shows great potential as a singer but lets the instruments dominate.

September 23, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Jazz singer Dena DeRose has all the vocal skills needed to rise to the top level of her field. But her appearance at Spazio on Sunday suggested that she might have a tough time making that ascent if she doesn't reconsider some of her performance practices.

DeRose was a pianist first, turning to singing after operations on her right hand for carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. Now fully recovered, she is a fluent pianist with facile technique, an imaginative approach to improvisation and a jaunty sense of swing. But the jazz piano field is overflowing with gifted practitioners, and it is DeRose's singing, not her instrumental talent, that lifts her above the crowd.

So it was not particularly wise for her to structure most of her tunes with extended instrumental passages and relatively minimal vocal offerings. Too often the warm sound and musically engaging singing she brought to standards such as "Detour Ahead," "Lover," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "You Don't Know What Love Is" were quickly set aside in favor of lengthy piano excursions.

Nor was she aided by the noisy presence of drummer Matt Wilson, seated near the front of the stage, further diminishing the impact of DeRose's vocals. Playing with sticks (rather than brushes, which are far more appropriate for working with a singer), taking showboating solos on almost every number, he failed to provide subtle, understanding rhythmic support.

When DeRose started her second set with "How Deep Is the Ocean" with the sole piano accompaniment of guest Bob Florence, the impact of her flawed ensemble choices became apparent. Singing beautifully, arching through fascinating alterations of melody, she displayed enormous vocal potential. The question is whether she will choose to do what is necessary to thoroughly fulfill that potential.

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