Set Your Heart Free
By Kabir Sehgal
When jazz is the soundtrack for your life, what a journey it can be. Donna Singer has been on such a life adventure, as an accomplished and talented singer who has traveled the world as an international recording artist. Among the places she has performed include France, Switzerland, Ireland, among many more cosmopolitan places. And, of course, she has graced the revered stages of Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. That she has a global outlook makes her even more capable at selecting and performing songs that speak to universal themes that touch all of us. Her latest album Set Your Heart Free is a personal and profound production with original compositions in which she reflects upon seminal life moments.
The repertoire of this album is remarkable, as most of the pieces are written by the accomplished team Mitchell Uscher and Roy Singer. That these two composers have varied backgrounds makes them a complementary pair. Along his career, Roy Singer has been a classical pianist and even performed in a rock band. Uscher is a veteran of the musical theater world. Bringing the compositions to life is the all-star band: Brad Keller (piano), Ranses Colon (bass), Adolfo Herrera (drums), Melton Mustafa Jr. (saxophone), Yamin Mustafa (trumpet), and Greg Minnick (guitar). All of these musicians have storied careers who have played alongside some of the most well-known figures in music. And of course, leading the way is the incandescent Donna Singer who delivers a both entertaining and enchanting performance.
“Destination Jazz” starts the album by acknowledging and recasting the lows of life. Leave the mellow and embrace the toe-tapping, finger-snapping music. This album’s proverbial maiden voyage sets its course towards a dazzling destination. “When You Have a Dream” is a hopeful and optimistic number in which Singer suggests strength in numbers: “When you have a dream, you never are alone / No one else can take it.” Brad Keller’s superb piano solo will no doubt inspire you to hold fast to your dreams. “Donna’s Lullaby” is a thoughtful ballad dedicated to the youngest among us. Donna’s inhabits this piece fully, making it her own, offering her own calming presence – which parents and children will surely appreciate. “To Be A Child” (Hope London) is a walk down memory lane, a thought experiment in which we revisit what it’s like to be young again. When we face difficult times, all we want is love and empathy. Mustafa’s feel good saxophone solo is just that – a musical solace that we desperately need to hear in times like these.
“Why Should Kids Have All the Fun” and “Spread Your Wings” (Oren Levine) are numbers that speak to the passage from childhood to adulthood. That first taste of freedom is both liberating and terrifying. As Donna reflects, “How do you balance the pride in seeing your children turn into independent adults with the fear about what might happen?” This is the conundrum that all parents must confront. And now we have a musical piece that puts these feelings to lyrics and gives us comfort that we’re not the only ones going through this particular situation.
“How It Ends” (Oren Levine) is equally pensive and profound. The composers wrote this number as they reflected upon the spate of school shootings and other tragedies that beset young adults. This boils down those complicated news stories into a more relatable, personal tale: “In my eyes, I see the tears…Wondering how it ends.” When we face difficult situations, isn’t that the question we ask? And here again is maestra Donna Singer giving us comfort with her graceful performance.
“My Dear” (Oren Levine) is a song that speaks to all parents. When it’s late at night and you hear a noise from your child’s room, all kinds of thoughts and even fears start to creep in the mind. This song is a reminder of the importance of the reassuring word and warm hug. A beautiful and emotive performance by Singer is inviting, welcoming, and all parts of reassuring. The final two numbers “Your Road” and “We Can Make a Stand” are tributes to independence and interdependence. All children grow up to embark upon their own path. At the same time, strong families stick together and nurture each other, providing comfort and support.
Set Your Heart Free is ultimately a project borne of empathy. It’s a musical testament to that adage, “I’ve been there.” That Donna sings so exquisitely can give us comfort that not only can we face the challenges that come our way in an elegant way. But we can also do it together. We’re all better for having this production in our lives.