Regatta Bar

Cettina Donato

July 24, 2013 at The Regattabar

For most musicians, when you show up to a gig, the last thing you want to see is a stack of complicated arrangements that you’ve never played before. At the Regattabar Wednesday night, Italian pianist and composer Cettina Donato traveled from Italy to promote her new album, “Crescendo”, which features big band and string quartet arrangements of her tunes. Unable to bring her entire band to America and with little time to rehearse, Donato chose to hire a smaller band of experienced Berklee professors unfamiliar with her compositions and complex arrangements. While a challenge for lesser musicians, Donato’s sextet was able to successfully translate her original arrangements into memorable performances.

Donato’s band was in sync all night. Drummer Ron Savage was able to keep his volume in control – a true feat for any drummer in the intimate Regattabar. When he wasn’t laying down grooves and keeping strong time, bassist David Santoro offered melodic and thoughtful solos. Trumpet player Ken Cervenka had a great sense of space and phrasing, and alto saxophone player Rafael Aguiar had a soulful, smooth tone. Donato, herself was a skilled soloist, playing fast, staccato lines effortlessly.

Herbie Hancock first took note of Donato’s talent as a composer, encouraging her in person to continue writing and arranging. Hancock was definitely onto something; Donato’s compositions were polished and engaging. Songs off Donato’s new album change styles when you least expect it and play with complex time signatures.

The band barreled through Donato’s compositions off of her new album. A highlight of the night was a waltz called “Step by Step”. One after another, each musician had a turn to solo over chord changes they’d never seen before, truly allowing the audience to witness improvisation at its finest. In one of the final songs of the night, the band performed the well-known jazz standard “My Romance”. It must have been a little bit of a relief for Donato’s band to see a song they all knew and had played before. The break was short lived though, and they finished with another Donato composition. In the end, despite the band’s unfamiliarity with Donato’s music, her compositions soared to new heights in a different, yet fascinating context.

– Nathan Basch (Jazz pianist, Economics student at The George Washington University)