Deanna Witkowski

Having to Ask

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At the age of 25, Witkowski has a lot of background as a Chicago-based pianist/vocalist who studied with Hilario Duran and Chucho Valdes. After relocating to Manhattan, she is music director for a church. Vocally she's reminiscent of Sheila Jordan, and as a pianist she is quite talented and much more mature and developed than many in her peer group. Saxophonist Jim Gailloreto adds much to this date, while split-time bassists Rob Amster or Jonathan Paul, drummer Tom Hipskind, and percussionist Jose Gregorio (five cuts) give their all to support and challenge Witkowski's forward-motion notions. The vocal cuts set Witkowski apart. Her flexible singing pushes a passionate envelope on the waltz treatment of "I'm All Smiles." Wordless lines inform two other tunes: the 6/8 African-based "Happening At Once" uses unison scat, tenor, and piano with Afro-Cuban mambo inserts in the bridge, and the spirit song parallels Gailloreto's soprano. Witkowski's compositions are pretty much Latin in nature, from the hot samba with soprano of "Rains in Kenya," the insistent one-chord setup for the simmering beat and pulsing bass of the title cut, and the light cha-cha with flute and Montuno bridge of "Danzon Para Hilario." The pianist stretches into unusual, far-reaching harmonics in her solo piano intro on the salsa-flavored "Au Privave," while easy swing buoys the Monk-ish melody replete with quirky vehicles of dropped measures, sped and slowed spontaneity, and traded threes (not fours) with Hipskind on "Cooked Macaroni." Breaking her music down into more simple terms, a steady ticktock beat with tenor sax approaches more contemporary neo-bop on "Leaving Space (Last Cha-Cha in Chi-Town)," and her most romantic side is prevalent on the tender solo piano take of "Blame It on My Youth." If Witkowski finds inquiries difficult, it is because she has more answers at such a young age, and she can't be blamed for this. This is a very talented lady who is just getting her feet wet in the jazz wars and likely will produce some stunning music in the future. This is a pretty good effort, collectively and individually, and easily recommended.

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