If there is any singer which is able to sing the Great American Songbook without any hint of boredom or nuisance, it is Jane Monheit. She sings the Ella Fitzgerald songbook on her new Songbook Sessions album (hopefully there are more to come in this series) and loosely collected songs Ella sang (and then didn’t sing), but not the obvious choices, but still it’s all classic Ella. She makes the songs sound extremely cool again, but not cold. Nicholas Payton produced the album and can be heard throughout on trumpet, but again he is not overexposed.
The tracks swing brilliantly (“Somebody Loves Me”) and I can hear some Sarah Vaughan-like phrasing in the fantastically re-modeled “All Too Soon”, the album opener which features her longtime collaborator Michael Kanan switching to electric piano on what turns out be become an irresistible groove. She puts “Chelsea Bridge” and “In A Sentimental Mood” into a medley re-naming it “Chelsea Mood” and puts on the swing hat again for “Something’s Gotta Give”.
Throughout, Jane sounds immaculate, full of grandeur where necessary and grit where you don’t expect it. Harpist Brandee Younger helps out on “I Was Doing All Right/Know You Now”, starting out with a relaxing bossa beat accompanied by the hilariously satisfying harp and electric piano giving it a somewhat exotic touch. The tune segues into the Amy Winehouse track “Know You Now” (no, Amy Winehouse is or rather was not the Ella Fitzgerald of today – I’ve read this bulls*** somewhere recently) with a gracious and sexy vocal arrangement. Very cool!
The last time I saw Jane in person was back in January when she was part of the Peggy Lee evening hosted by author James Gavin who read from his Lee biography. I was blown away by her amazing performance of “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” and her ability to tell a beautiful story in a ballad. She does so again here on the often overdone and overcooked “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”. It’s back to simmering swing sass again on “Where Or When”. Along with Payton, Younger and Kanan, bassist Neil Miner and drummer Rick Montalbano (her husband) plus percussionist Daniel Sadwonick help her out. And there is the vulnerable, somehow swampy-sounding Jane again on “Ill Wind” – a tasty Southern stew. Cole Porter‘s “All Of You” has something from Ahmad Jamal‘s intoxicating “Poinciana”, the electric piano and trumpet interplay here is superb. Sounding fresh and breezy.
“I Used To Be Color Blind” easily floats along and features Neil on bass and who would have thought that “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” would come to life again in 2016? With handclaps, glass bottle, and cow bell together in a quirky mix with electric keyboards and a downright soulful groove, the team comes up with a totally refreshing, satisfying, and playful interpretation that can’t be praised enough for its inventiveness. Don’t ever say again that you’ve become tired of hearing that Cole Porter classic. This is the thing. And the album ends on that typically sweet Jane note with “This Time The Dream’s On Me”, complete with airy organ and heavily harp this is a well-chosen finale to a terrific album.