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JAZZ REVIEW

Next time, leave the drummer at home

Singer and pianist Dena DeRose has to share the Vic's spotlight.

June 18, 2005|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Dena DeRose appears to be a singer-pianist who likes to hear her percussion accompaniment. Her performance at the Vic on Thursday night recalled her appearance at Spazio two years ago, in which she worked with a drummer whose style and substance frequently seemed outsized for the subtleties of a piano jazz and vocal trio.

In this case, the drummer was Steve Barnes, a talented player who performed with a flair and imagination that often galvanized the audience. But the question was how appropriate it was for a player in a supportive role to overwhelm DeRose's subtle vocal passages and briskly swinging piano lines by mostly playing loudly with sticks in a venue the size of a large living room. Or how appropriate it was to mug and posture, drawing attention to himself, throughout many of DeRose's solos.

Fortunately, DeRose's skills were strong enough to cut through the decibels and the antics. Singing a program largely devoted to standards, she found an impressive balance between her lovely, warm-toned voice and her fleet, airy piano passages. "Lover" surfaced in a brisk, swinging 6/4; Al Jolson's "All My Love" featured a flowing solo from bassist Christoph Luty.

Other tunes in which the quiet, intimate aspects of DeRose's art could occasionally be experienced -- "I'm Old Fashioned," "Imagine" and "I Could Have Told You So" (which was sung with no accompaniment other than her piano) -- provided the set's rare opportunities to hear the full interpretive skills of a singer with the talent and the individuality to rise to the top levels of the jazz vocal art.

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