Having shown off her precocious jazz skills and love for old standards on her commercially eye-opening first two albums, the beautiful young star Jane Monheit is more relaxed and in her element on her third effort, which plays up her appeal as a pop chanteuse. Though she oversells the Eric Kaz-Libby Titus '70s rock classic "Love Has No Pride," and is too young to penetrate "Haunted Heart" (listen to Jo Stafford's 1947 version for some real chills), she brings a fresh vibrancy to "Just Squeeze Me" and "Cheek to Cheek," and acquits herself nicely with a pair of numbers by Brazilian tunesmith Ivan Lins. Best of all is her affecting, vocally pure rendering of Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time" (from the musical On the Town), featuring strings arranged by Alan Broadbent. Her accompanists include bassist Ron Carter, trumpeter Tom Harrell, drummer Kenny Washington, and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm.
The beautifully subtle pop/jazz vocalist has been one of the great old souls of music since launching her recording career after winning the first runner up prize at the 1998 Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition. But she celebrated the significant chronological milestone of passing 30 while making this graceful and exquisite album. Beyond that, Monheit also celebrates her new motherhood to son Jack, and that's what inspired the inclusion of the always welcome "Rainbow Connection"; she sings the charming song – and its lyrics that inspired the name of the recording – to Jack all the time. At home, however, it doesn't have the exquisite Gil Goldstein accordion touch that makes this one of the best renditions ever. Goldstein arranged many of the tracks, but one of the most exciting jazzy turns, Monheit's swinging, swaggering "Get Out of Town," was done by pianist Michael Kanan, who was part of the ensemble that recorded half of these tracks while the singer was still pregnant. In many ways, then, this 13-track collection is a chronicle of the singer pre- and post-motherhood – and all something that Jack will be proud of as he grows older. As always, the key to a great interpreter's project is the choice of material, and Monheit makes interesting picks, ranging from a wistful take on Paul Simon's "I Do It for Your Love" to Fiona Apple's dark and haunting "Slow Like Honey" and Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like a Star".
At once crisply assertive and lovingly sensual, vocalist Jane Monheit is the jazz equivalent of the young and charming grade school teacher you secretly nurtured a crush on. A sophisticated bombshell of a performer with a voice that is, like her appearance, voluptuous and flawlessly pretty, Monheit has garnered well-earned comparisons to such icons as Ella Fitzgerald and the goddess of vocal pop, Barbra Streisand. In that sense, her sixth studio album, Surrender, is, at first glance, not dissimilar from her past work. Recorded with her working combo including husband and drummer Rick Montalbano, Surrender is a ballads-heavy album that features a mix of jazz standards, reworked pop tunes, and several bossa nova numbers. What is different is the focus and presentation of Monheit. Rather than featuring her here simply as a singer fronting a jazz band, Surrender is a cinematic showcase, a Broadway-sized coming-out party that finds Monheit's voice framed against sweeping orchestration and glossy, Technicolor arrangements. This is Monheit the vocal diva, the superstar.
While the early 2000s bore witness to a bevy of youthful standards singers with earnestly traditional vocals, New Yorker Jane Monheit preceded Norah Jones, Michael Buble, Katie Melua et al. She wowed the jazz world when she was barely out of her teens with her 2000 debut, NEVER NEVER LAND, and quickly ascended to stardom. Monheit's fourth record, 2004's TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE, expresses her love for movie musicals of the 1930s and '40s. From both Monheit's song choices and the fervor she pours into these selections, it's virtually impossible to challenge the sincerity of her affection. Monheit opens by finding a truly original, offbeat angle to the oft-visited Fats Waller classic "Honeysuckle Rose" and continues to connect throughout the 11 subsequent tracks. She teams up with the aforementioned Michael Buble on a charged version of the always-lively "I Won't Dance" and finds every ounce of sultriness in "Why Can't You Behave?" and "Dancing in the Dark." As with most of the acclaimed jazz stylists of her day, Monheit possesses incredible vocal shrewdness, but it is her almost spiritual connection to the tunes of a bygone era that clearly sets her apart.
Jane Monheit's sophomore outing follows in the same accessible mold as her debut, Never Never Land. The young, fairly green vocalist is joined again by all-star musicians, including renowned pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Greg Hutchinson, with Michael Brecker and Tom Harrell making a handful of guest appearances each. Closing the album on a surprising note, African phenom Richard Bona joins for an intimate duo rendition of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," playing acoustic guitar accompaniment and overdubbing fretless bass filigree behind Monheit's vocal. Monheit's exquisite voice is becoming more seasoned and expressive, particularly on sassier numbers like "Hit the Road to Dreamland" and "I'm Through with Love." She also wraps her seductive charm around Jobim's swaying free-association poem "Waters of March" and takes on two of jazz's grand ballads, Billy Strayhorn's "Something to Live For" and Fran Landesman's "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most." The latter, a duet with Kenny Barron, prompts one to compare and contrast Chaka Khan's rendition with Chick Corea on 1982's Echoes of an Era. "Blame It on My Youth," "I'll Be Seeing You," and "Over the Rainbow" are pleasant but less remarkable.