Deanna Witkowski

Force Of Nature
(MCG Jazz)

This musical homage to Mary Lou Williams, Deanna Witkowski’s mentor and Pittsburgh soulmate, complements Witkowski’ biography, Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul. But Force Of Nature is a bold statement of its own, even though most of its 12 tracks, including three from the album Zodiac Suite, are interpretations of Williams originals.

The album opens with “Gjon Mili Jam Session,” Williams’ debonair homage to a 1940s jazz photographer, featuring Clay Jenkins’ playful trumpet and a Witkowski piano solo that turns ever more percussive. “Cancer,” spliced with “Act Of Contrition” from Williams’ religious work Mary Lou’s Mass, is the most contemplative of the three Zodiac updates. Jenkins’ voice-like trumpet adds to the affectionate dreaminess Witkowski brings to this beautiful tune. The protracted ending affirms Witkowski’s comfort with the large gesture. She follows with the energetic “Lonely Moments,” a showcase for Jenkins and a testament to Witkowski’s command of the melodic line. Her trades with drummer Scott Latzky are invigorating; the whole group is in on this high-wire act.

The atmospheric center of the album is “What’s The Story, Morning Glory?/Ghost Of Love.” Latzky’s brushwork and Daniel Foose’s careful bass lines keep this mini-medley at a slow burn, but Witkowski eventually stretches out, draping the melody over her bandmates. Latzky’s snare helps propel “Force Of Nature,” Witkowski’s brisk original. In each track, Witkowski finds a still center; here, she gives way to Foose’s urgent bass and Latzky’s rim shots, gathering strength to return for a triumphant close.

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