Deanna Witkowski, piano, vocals; Donny McCaslin, tenor and soprano saxes; Jonathan Paul, bass; Tom Hipskind, drums
Ms. Witkowski's pronounced imagination on her second CD as a leader reminds me of how often I change my mind about a long-ago McCoy Tyner trio performance of Thelonious Monk's "Ruby, My Dear" - sorry, I forget what 1980s Prestige Records session it was but I know it wasn't SUPERTRIOS - anyway, in that arrangement Tyner threw so many grace notes in his playing of the theme, it was as if he was trying to make of it a Maurice Ravel melody. Sometimes I dig it, other times I'm like, "It's what Monk left out that made that tune, man!" Well, there's a similar rhapsodic sense of pure invention to be heard in WIDE OPEN WINDOW: you have to be in the mood for much of this CD, but if you are, it'll hook you and never let you go. Other times you may, "Hmmmm, I don't know" For example, Cole Porter's "All Through The Night" gets a slightly-up-tempo Bill Evans-like treatment with a modal feel, keeping my eyebrows at 12 o'clock high; it's ingenious and it proves that there's very little Ms. Witkowski can't do. It's just a question of whether you want to hear Porter's classic weeper reimagined to this extent. Tom Hipskind's drums are especially fluent here, matching Witkowski 16th note for 16th note. Other members of this well-rounded band include Don McCaslin (saxophones) and Jonathan Paul (bass); I think Paul may be a bit undermiked but he backs the group with a delicious tone and no small presence, particularly on the blues-flavored title track. Ms. W. seldom fails to find hidden tonal depths wherever she chooses to look: even Rodgers and Hammerstein's delightfully corny "A Wonderful Guy" starts off with a quiet, meditative reading with an undercurrent of near-religious joy. So McCaslin's throaty jump out of the gate once the rhythm section kicks the piece into gear is a surprise of near Cannonball Adderly-like fervor. Very nice surprise, as long as one is receptive.
Elsewhere the force of Ms. Witkowski's argument is undeniable and simply has to be admired, or what do you listen to Jazz for, anyway? A solo "You and the Night And the Music" has the perfect diction of a Beethoven sonata. The closing "Sanctus," a more direct ecclesiastical statement, is the Christian prayer set to glowing accompaniment, deriving from a mass written when Ms. W. was music director for an obviously very hip Episcopal church in Manhattan. I like her singing, it's natural and affecting and breathy: exactly what the music called for. And Porter's "Just One Of Those Things" has the melody stripped off and the undercarriage exposed (you have to look again at the CD listing to see what song this really is) but no one can argue with the facility with which Ms. W. completely takes the song's chords apart and reassembles them in the break. Paul's bass solo thereafter is simply ferocious, and the trading of 4s before the coda is also not done just because we're following the tradition slavishly. It's done because it was supposed to be.
Art is not necessarily something about which we decide what we think and then go on to something else, and never change our minds about it. It will hit us at different times in different ways. WIDE OPEN WINDOW will refuse to allow you to file it away and forget about. Itís too different and too vital. Bravo, Ms. Witkowski.
by Ken Egbert
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