Will Donato has impressive credentials. He toured with Steve Reid’s Bamboo Forest for quite a while, played on Steve Oliver’s chart-topping “High Noon,” he’s done soundtrack work and been onstage with some of the biggest names in smooth jazz. But most of all he’s a working musician, playing several nights a week at southern California nightspots both as a leader and as a band member and doing smooth jazz gigs all over the country. When you spend that much time in front of a crowd you see firsthand what turns them on, especially when there’s a dance floor between the seats and the stage. That’s what Donato delivers on Will Call. Wailing sax and rock guitar leads punctuated with in-your-face horn section blasts, funky bass that will shake your speakers and high-spirited grooves that will shake your booty. It’s all here along with a seductive dose of romanticism for the slow-dance set and an impressive interpretation of a contemporary jazz classic.
Will Call was produced by percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Rogerio Jardim, who also did a stint with Bamboo Forest. It features a group of studio heavy-hitters who are familiar names to fans of Steve Oliver’s recent work as well as Steve Reid’s – guitarist Blake Aaron, bassists Eddie Reddick and Melvin Davis, Christian Poezach on drums, Jardin on percussion and keyboards and Oliver himself adds guitar and vocals to several songs. Will Call is not imitative but several songs do reflect the sound Reid and Oliver have developed over the years. “Tropica,” the opener, is a joyously rhythmic Latin flavored track with some Oliver-ish vocalese from Jardim. The buoyant “Morning.Noon.Night” has a similar vibe underscored by some ear-candy effects that make it a lot of fun to hear when you turn up the volume or put the headphones on. “More Sway” is pure funk with Donato working the low range of his alto on one that’s reminiscent of Average White Band in their heyday. Staying in a similar groove, is his take on “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.” He works this song with the confidence of a crowd-pleaser, bringing his own style to the recognizable melody by playing counterpoint to it instead of doing a rote recitiation. The result sounds more like a strong, hook-heavy instrumental than a cover tune. Blake Aaron brings a rock sensibility to even the more subdued smooth jazz sessions. He delivers a rousing solo on the title track and some bluesy fills to the smoldering “Highway.” There are two ballads on the CD. “Speak My Heart,” an original, is a lovely, expressive piece that has the warmth of a live performance. Chick Corea’s meditative classic “Crystal Silence,” is an ambitious undertaking that he pulls off beautifully, soloing on tenor while Tom Zink’s keyboards recreate the atmospheric Rhodes-tinged textures of the earliest versions of the song.
Donato is a smooth jazz star-in- waiting. He’s a skilled musician and a charismatic performer. If there was any structure in place for breaking new artists and new music in this genre he’d be one of the first ones to take off. His artistry shines through on Will Call, where he mixes it up with soprano, alto, and tenor and performs all the horn section parts. As indie artists working with an indie budget, he, producer/arranger Jardim and the contributing musicians bring a high level of professionalism and DIY spirit to the project. If looking for a collection of songs that hit all the bases on the smooth jazz field and take a few steps out of bounds too, Will Call is one of those CDs you’ve just gotta get!
Visit Will’s website at www.willdonato.com
- Shannon West