Dena DeRose at Pizza Express

Dean DeRose

Derek Ansell reviews the London début of Dena DeRose, hailed in the Washington City Paper as the most compelling singer/pianist since Shirley Horn.

Pizza Express, Dean St, London, 27 October 2011

It may have been Dena's first gig in the UK but she had the audience with her after less than 10 minutes into her set at the Pizza Express. A lively, animated performer, she puts lots of personal enjoyment into every performance and this transmits easily to the audience.

New in town she was but there were New Yorkers in the audience and fellow American songstress Lea DeLaria and her party cheered, whistled or applauded every neatly executed phrase or unusual variation on familiar material. "This is like old home week," Dena said, obviously right at home herself from the start and launching into a long and varied extemporisation on Speak Low.

Quality standards are her stock in trade although her skill and imagination turn even the most familiar (or on occasion unfamiliar) material into freshly minted music. Not that she strays far from the original melodies - she obviously loves them all. It is the manner and phraseology of her interpretations that impress. Her personal variations on timeless classics make new out of old.

A full and impressive command of the keyboard gives her the means of execution and the trio functioned as a well-oiled unit all night - quite an achievement considering that they had not worked together previously. Mark Hodgson's bass lines were rock steady and drummer Dave Ohm gave an impressive display as accompanist and occasional soloist.

Dena is first and foremost a singer though and she can put as much into a ballad as she does into a wild scat on an uptempo piece; her voice is a jazz voice and she uses it as such whether singing a standard, a new composition of her own or an old jazz warhorse. Anyone who can turn John Lennon's Imagine into a jazz ballad with a blues-drenched piano solo at the centre gets my vote straight away.

She seems to have an affinity with music by Cole Porter and her version of Detour Ahead was one of the extended highlights of this recital. And although such things are fairly rare, her second set contained as much quality content and intensity as the first.

Away from her day job as professor of vocal studies at the University of Graz in Austria (see profile in October Jazz Journal), Dena goes all round the world performing, usually in a trio context in clubs and concert halls and recording in her homeland for the Maxjazz label. As this was a first for London and the UK generally it looks as though we have been missing out, a situation that jazz club bookers here should rectify without a moment's hesitation.


Read our review of Dena's recent album. Subscribe to see our profile of her in Jazz Journal October 2011.


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