It is obvious that this is the real McCoy in terms of classic jazz vocals. A record like this comes along once in a blue moon. You realise that pretty much anywhere you look. Take 'When a Woman Loves a Man,' the Gordon Jenkins/Johnny Mercer/Bernie Hanighen song. Agile piano accompaniment by Michael Kanan ups the ante and throughout the album keeps on rising his level of commitment and offering his study of touch behind Jane Monheit. As previously noted it is more than two decades since the singer debuted when she quickly became one of the greatest classic jazz voices on the scene. Monheit hasn't, however, released a record in quite a while.
The treatment of the Frank Loesser song 'I Believe in You' is so joyous. Rick Montalbano, Monheit's husband, on drums reminds me of Matt Skelton a bit so if you know Skelton's style you'll quickly know what I mean. Monheit has a really airy way with her that sounds totally on top of everything as if she does not even have to think about the words because there is other work to do going deeper in terms of all the little extra ingredients, usually to do with timing, that a great singer has to attend to. Her scatting is also world class. For lyrics go to the witty 'Let's Take a Walk Around the Block' the Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin/E. Y. Harburg song. Monheit swings the hell of the thing.
But what about her take on Billy Strayhorn's classic 'Lush Life'? Well that probably makes the whole album. Kanan is so subtle. Monheit sings Ah yes I was wrong and again making the song tingle and work in a distinctive way to open wide a new window. There is such a crispness to her delivery and understanding. There are a lot of familiar standards on the album. That may put off some who may well ask, so what? But Monheit can make them seem brand new and does. On the Irving Berlin classic 'Let's Face the Music and Dance' she injects an impossible-to-predict direction to the trajectory of the song. Her scat again is superb and Kevin Winard's percussion touch makes it a treat. Well sequenced that track leads naturally into Jobim's 'Samba Do Avião' that is the slinkiest thing on the record by a long way although the string arrangement isn't so much to my taste.
Kanan opens 'The Nearness of You' beautifully and later the strings pile in, Monheit sings the song in a much straighter, sweet voiced manner and is the closest she comes to being pure show singer on the album. A lovely treatment, the string arrangement works a lot better behind her on this.
'On the Sunny Side of the Street' the Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields song is nicely led off by double bassist David Roaire. But what about 'The Man That Got Away' the Arlen/Gershwin classic? Well that's the second big highlight of this very fine album. I'll be astonished if there's a more accomplished classic jazz vocals album released this spring. 'My Funny Valentine' is the ultimate topping on the cake, Monheit airy and icy entering a whole other world. SG. On Club 44 Records