CD Review by Marilyn Lester . . .
Jane Monheit’s Come What May (Club 44 Records) celebrates the singer’s 20th year as a recording artist. She’s a top-notch jazz vocalist whose style derives from classic performers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. Monheit is adaptable and flexible and can scat with the best of them. In Come What May she sticks to the kind of repertoire she knows best, a mix of Broadway and jazz standards, including a touch of bossa nova. “Samba Do Aviao’’ (Antônio Carlos Jobim) establishes two facets of her style. One is that she’s got a real feel for rhythm and swing that permeates every note. The second is that a so-called operatic soprano (oft encountered on Broadway) can master jazz so neatly. But these two facts work together, the result being a smooth, sophisticated and consistent delivery of her material.
Swinging and scat-filled renditions of “I Believe in You” (Frank Loesser) and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields) paired with “Get Happy” (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler. ) are toe-tapping fun, featuring the fine artistry of bassist David Robaire and the improvisational skill of pianist Michael Kanan.
“My Funny Valentine” (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart), arranged as a haunting ballad, proved an intelligent, breathtaking approach, giving Monheit the freedom to demonstrate her magnificent storytelling ability. The delivery of the lyric is one of the most authentic ever in my estimation—and this is a tune that’s one of the most recorded in the history of the Great American Songbook. What an extraordinary rendition. The same quality of authenticity is offered in “The Nearness of You” (Hoagy Carmichael, Ned Washington) with kudos to Monheit for including the seldom-heard verse. Her interpretation is emotive, with flights of vocalizing helping to build a story arc within its orchestral arrangement to a happy conclusion. The real test of truth and mastery arrived in Monheit’s interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” He precociously wrote the tune when he was around 16. Throughout his life, Strayhorn guarded it closely, barely allowing anyone to sing it. He knew what kind of interpretation the song deserved and specifically what he wanted. Of course, since his death in 1967, Lush Life has been covered many times, generally in a fashion that would make Strayhorn cringe. Not so Monheit. She nailed it perfectly. Strayhorn would have been extremely proud of her.