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At first glance bassist Jeff Denson appears to reinvent himself on every album, and his 12th release as leader or co-leader, 6th under his name, Outside My Window, might seem like his biggest departure yet. Possessing a huge, galvanizing sound and a lyrically-charged compositional vision, the supremely versatile Denson has earned recognition over the past 15 years as one of his generation’s definitive bassists. Jeff has performed around the world Dave Douglas, Brian Blade, Joe Lovano, and has been a member of jazz legend Lee Konitz’s quartet for over 12 years. Outside My Window recalibrates his already expansive array of creative outlets by giving equal weight to his vocals. Working with a stellar international quartet, Denson delivers an emotionally taut program weaving together striking interpretations of iconic songs and deeply felt originals.
Denson’s music covers a lot of stylistic territory, “but my voice is a thread running through each one, whether I’m singing or not,” he says. “I was a singer before I was a bass player. Going into the jazz world I put my voice away for a long time. But this is a logical step for me, in that I’m using my voice more and more every year. This is the first time I’m singing throughout an entire album, and these songs are a direct continuation of the music I’ve been writing and arranging.”
Denson’s arrangements of four songs by other artists don’t reimagine the pieces as much as filter them through his subtle sonic palette, starting with a gorgeous, lapidary version of “Grace,” a piece inspired by his Negative Press Project album, Eternal Life: Jeff Buckley Songs and Sounds. He delivers a sparse, intensely poignant rendition of Abbey Lincoln’s “Bird Alone,” a re-harmonized 6/8 version of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and a riveting arrangement of “Fell On Black Days” by Chris Cornell, a piece that serves as a tribute to Soundgarden’s vocalist, who’s music served a high school soundtrack for Denson.
“In my mind, he’s arguably the best voice of that rock/grunge generation,” Denson says. “I wanted to pay tribute to him and his artistry. And Abbey is one of my favorite jazz vocalists. I’ve always loved the way she sings, how she pulls on the time like Billie Holiday. She sings with such a full, intense, large sound, and this song of hers always moved me. I wanted to see what I could do with it.”
Denson’s four original pieces stand up impressively next to his interpretations, from the Beatlesque optimism of “For A Brand New Day” to the clangy prepared-piano accompaniment of the anguished “Have We Really Gone This Far?” On a melancholic piece that feels like it beamed in from a universe neighboring Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, Denson contributes an atmospheric wordless vocal on “Through the Mist,” a tune he’s radically rearranged since the collective trio Minsarah introduced it in 2006. The closing title track is a wistful invitation into Denson’s verdant musical world.