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Vocalists who accompany themselves on piano have a distinct advantage. The two roles merge into one perfectly attuned performance roadmap. They can see the upcoming curves, speedbumps and detours long before they arrive. Comping unfolds effortlessly and with enhanced lucidity. Clearly, there’s more than intuition at play when the same musician covers both bases. The results, as Dena DeRose so richly demonstrates on Ode to the Road, can be unerringly on target, making the most of every note and chord.
DeRose and her trio — drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Martin Wind — welcome guest artists Sheila Jordan, the nonagenarian vocal legend; trumpeter Jeremy Pelt; and saxophonist Houston Person on two each of the date’s 11 eclectic, road-tested tunes. The title song, a captivating melody by pianist and composer Alan Broadbent with lyrics by Mark Murphy, is a trio showcase. The leader’s flirtatious vocal style, sly phrasing, perfect pitch and deft pianistics are showcased. “Nothing Like You,” an up-tempo, bop-shaded Bob Dorough gem, features a driving, Latin-accented pulse from the rhythm section and Pelt’s fleet trumpet work, while “Small Day Tomorrow,” a bluesy Dorough ballad, adds Jordan to the mix, her seasoned voice riveting in its poignant and melancholy delivery.
Two particularly rewarding takes come from a surprising source: Hollywood of the 1960s and ’70s. “The Way We Were,” composed by Marvin Hamlisch for the movie of the same name, became a mega-hit for Barbra Streisand. The tune’s wistful lyrics, penned by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, are perfectly suited to DeRose’s relaxed, introspective interpretation, while the melody is enhanced by Person’s throaty tenor sax. The tempo swings harder and the trio loses all inhibitions on Henry Mancini’s “The Days of Wine and Roses,” urging more tenor magic from the 85-year-old Person. Whether tackling the leader’s originals or compositions by Miles Davis, Roger Kellaway, and Al Cohn, DeRose and her colleagues consistently deliver compelling performances that demand repeated listening. — Mark Holston