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Roberta Donnay - What's Your Story Print E-mail
Friday, 01 September 2006

Roberta Donnay

What's Your Story
format: 16-bit CD
performance: 9
sound: 9
release year: 2006
label: Rainforest
reviewed by: Scott Yanow

Image In the jazz world, Roberta Donnay is a fairly new name and a major new find, but she has already had productive careers elsewhere, and What's Your Story is actually her sixth release for the Rainforest label. Donnay has extensive experience in voiceovers, and as a singer on the soundtracks of television shows and films. She wrote "One World," a song adopted by the United Nations for their 50th anniversary and often used at graduations. A tune from one her recordings was included on a prestigious Women in Rock compilation CD. She tours with Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks and has appeared with Dan Fogelberg, Huey Lewis and Neil Young. She even appeared in a Michael Jackson video.

So what is Roberta Donnay doing singing jazz? The answer is: Excelling. She appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival with saxophonist Dave Ellis back in 2003 and says she has always loved the music, seeing it as her ultimate goal. She so impressed legendary jazz producer Orrin Keepnews that he agreed to produce this CD. The results are consistently rewarding and fun.

On medium-tempo tunes Roberta Donnay displays an original and very appealing sound, while on ballads she sometimes sounds hauntingly like Norah Jones in spots. The difference from Jones is that Donnay is clearly a jazz singer, improvising with both subtlety and consistency. She is very good at picking out the perfect note to sing and her brief bits of scatting are delightful. Donnay is accompanied and inspired by pianist Eric Reed, bassist Gerald Cannon, drummer Mark Taylor and (on four of the dozen selections) Dave Ellis, all of whom play well while being very supportive.

"No Regrets," which Billie Holiday recorded in the late 1930s, is a highpoint and a good example of the care that went into these selections. Donnay sings the first half-chorus as a ballad with the second half switching to medium-tempo. On the second chorus, she alters notes while sticking to the words and takes an unexpected unaccompanied two-bar break in the middle of the chorus as double-time. After Reed gets a chorus, Donnay sings the final time around, with the two-bar break (double-time but with different notes) giving the end of the piece a strong momentum. Donnay's brief tag has scatting reminiscent of Nat King Cole and serves as a perfect ending.

There are similar little touches in each of the songs that cause these versions to rise above the predictable. The repertoire itself has its surprises, with only "Devil May Care" and "Dindi" being recorded often these days. Mary Lou Williams' sophisticated blues "What's Your Story, Morning Glory" deserved this revival. The Crusaders' "Put It Where You Want It" (with Al Jarreau's lyrics) gets a rare vocal version. "Small Day Tomorrow" is quietly expressive, "Stop This Train" gives her a chance to sing the blues and "Devil May Care" gets a happy romp.

"Life in the Slow Run" has the trio playing uptempo for the first eight bars before adopting a lazy slow-medium pace over which Donnay extols the joys of having a slower life. Her bluesiness makes one doubt that life with her would be that slow! Other selections include "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'," Mose Allison's "If You Live" (which is given a riff from "Cantaloupe Island”), the regretful "Drinkin' Again," "Blue Monk" and "Dindi," which starts out very slow and remains romantic throughout.

During this program, one cannot help being impressed by her feeling for the music, her versatility and the seductive quality of her voice. It makes one very glad that Roberta Donnay has decided to sing jazz.

Recorded in one day at the Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, the sound quality is so natural and lifelike that one does not even think about it. The balance is perfect and, while Roberta Donnay is in the forefront, the other musicians are never overshadowed nor drowned out. Gerald Cannon's bass comes through very clear, driving the music without excessively pushing it.

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