Jane Monheit (vocals) – The Songbook Sessions – Ella Fitzgerald – Emerald City

Jane Monheit (vocals) – The Songbook Sessions – Ella Fitzgerald [TrackList follows] – Emerald City ECR 001, 58:42 ****:

A sincere tribute filled with vocal dexterity and ingenuity.  

(Jane Monheit – vocals; Nicholas Payton – trumpet/organ tracks 11/12; Michael Kanan – electric piano; Neal Miner – bass; Rick Montalbano – drums; Daniel Sadownick – percussion; Brandee Younger – harp tracks 5/12)

No longer the ingénue who at twenty was the first runner- up in the 1998 Thelonious Monk Institute vocal competition, Jane Monheit has matured into a captivating and expressive singer. With the release of The Songbook Sessions – Ella Fitzgerald on her own label Emerald City Records, Monheit demonstrates her own acutely inventive capability.

Tackling those songs that had been associated with the great jazz songstress Ella Fitzgerald is no small undertaking. While certainly not intentionally attempting to channel Ella, comparisons would be forthcoming regardless of intent. Fortunately Monheit’s own vocal dexterity and ingenuity get paid to that idea in a hurry.  Starting with Duke Ellington’s “All To Soon”, Monheit shows her inquisitive spirit as she weaves her way around the lyric as the band shows a soft Latin touch, with trumpeter Nicholas Payton offering some interesting fills.

The Ellington/Strayhorn connection continues with “Chelsea Mood” which is an amalgam of Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge and Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood. Monheit opens the track with a vocalese take on the Strayhorn number with an affable Payton in the background. The segue into the second tune has Monheit in an upper-register mode, as she shows her range and lyricism. Pianist Michael Kanan backs up the proceedings with some typical Ellington chording.

Another ‘two-fer’ is  George & Ira Gershwin’s “I Was Doing All Right” combined with Amy Winehouse’s “Know You Now” which works out surprisingly well, with Monheit leading into the first tune over the sparkling harp of Brandee Younger, then picking up a Latin feel as Payton’s horn plays out background support. The Winehouse number features some Monheit over-dubbing but still retains the overall Latin feel.

Jane Monheit’s singing style is filled with corners and angles which challenge the listener. So when she works over “All Of You” as her band delivers an Ahmad Jamal like Poinciana-influenced rhythm, her shiny concept and sparse feeling of expression are in the forefront of her interpretation. The album closes with “This Time The Dream’s On Me” supported by only Nicholas Payton on organ and Brandee Younger on harp. It is done with cool mastery and an intelligently heartfelt rendition.

TrackList: All Too Soon; Somebody Loves Me; Chelsea Mood; Something’s Got To Give; I Was Doing All Right/Know You Now; Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye; Where Or When; Ill Wind; All Of You; I Used To Be Colorblind; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; This Time The Dream’s On Me

—Pierre Giroux

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