Jazz’s need to create on the spot never really goes away—testing moves in front of an audience is always a consideration for performers who truly want to know how an arrangement or an approach will play to a crowd. Jane Monheit is an intrepid soul; starting tonight she’ll green-light this notion for the next three months, hosting a Sunday-evening “Jazz Party,” which affords audiences a chance to peek behind the curtain and enjoy the looseness of a jam session while basking in the talents of a very tight band. The singer and her trio, including pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Neal Miner, and drummer Rick Montalbano, will be opening the doors to guest instrumentalists and giving new ideas plenty of elbow room—a spotlight on spontaneity. The boss lady and her seductive coo ain’t shy—Monheit is a natural charmer. Whether she’s tweaking her take on “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (there’s a Judy Garland tribute in her future) or embedding herself in a boo-hoo opus such as “Two Lonely People,” prepare for charisma around every turn.

Sundays, 6 p.m. Starts: July 6. Continues through Aug. 10, 2014


The Best Jazz Shows in New York City This Week 10/29/2012

Here’s a list of jazz shows happening in the city we think you’ll enjoy.

David Virelles
The young, Cuban-born pianist David Virelles celebrates the release of his new album, Continuum — a mysterious, chamber-like thing featuring the bassist Ben Street and the drummer Andrew Cyrille, among other musicians — this Tuesday at Drom. The music is influenced by the folklore of Virelles’s homeland. An after-party will feature DJ sets by Questlove and Tyondai Braxton.

Lee Konitz Quartet
The 85-year-old alto saxophonist Lee Konitz came to prominence in the 1950s at a time when Charlie Parker mimics were growing like kudzu. Konitz plays with a dry tone and a mellow sensibility, but his musical phrases can be quite powerful. He performs at Birdland Tuesday through Saturday with his quartet, including Florian Weber on piano, Jeff Denson on bass and Adam Kruz on drums.

John Zorn Halloween Improv Night
In the style of an old-fashioned rent party, the door money from this event, held at The Stone on Wednesday, goes in to cover monthly expenses for the East Village performance space. The line-up includes Joel Rubin on clarinet, James Moore on guitar, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Brian Chase on drums, James Ilgenfritz on bass and John Zorn himself on saxophone, among other special guests. Last week, I sent Zorn an email to see if the event would be Halloween-themed. “COME IN COSTUME!!” he replied.

The Spanish flamenco singer Concha Buika has a voice so smoky it could make jerky. The last time I saw her, she danced barefoot about the stage of Carnegie Hall, accompanied by the great Cuban pianist Chucho Vald├ęs. She seemed completely at ease. Buika, who performs using only her last name, will appear at Blue Note this Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Other musicians to be announced.

Jane Monheit
Jane Monheit is a sassy singer with a soulful devotion to the great American songbook. She’ll take the stage this Saturday at the 92nd Street Y — as part of the 92Y Jazz series — joined by her trio of Michael Kanan on piano, Neal Miner on bass and Rick Montalbano on drums. The virtuoso violinist Mark O’Connor will appear as a special guest.


Jane Monheit

If there’s one thing the recent work of Jane Monheit proves, it’s that maturing doesn’t mean losing freshness and immediacy. Now more than a decade into a scintillating career, the thrush might not be trying to invoke the nubile mermaid image she once projected, but she’s still performing with verve and impeccable instinct. She has always sung ballads with an understanding beyond her years, and that hasn’t changed one iota: Just when she seems to have lofted the final breathtaking note, she inevitably adds something astonishing.

Jan. 17-21, 8:30 & 11 p.m., 2012


Jack Donahue

Starting out as the handsome boy next door, the crooner decided some years ago that his true affinity was jazz. These days, he seems to have settled on an approach somewhere between early and later, and the results are definitely appealing. His mentor (and also Jane Monheit’s) is Peter Eldridge, who also chants solo when not with the New York Voices. Expect the tangy.

Tue., Feb. 9, 7 p.m.; Tue., Feb. 16, 7 p.m., 2010


Found and Lost

Terence Blanchard’s reach and tone have broadened just about equally in the 15 years since he graduated from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He has tested his skills as trumpeter, composer, and bandleader in a variety of overlapping projects: the quintet with Donald Harrison, formalized during a sabbatical from Blakey and continued through 1989; several film scores, most for Spike Lee; on-and-off-again groups, in recent years framed around his collaboration with pianist Edward Simon; and 11 Columbia or Sony Classical discs, each a defined project, lending a certain meticulous drama to his recordings. His latest, Let’s Get Lost, differs from the rest yet remains true to a cycle that alternates originals (as on its predecessor, Wandering Moon) with classic songs—this time a salute to Jimmy McHugh, abetted by the three most fashionable under-50 jazz singers (Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and Diana Krall) and one who wants to enter their ranks (Jane Monheit). It should be more fun than it is.

McHugh is an ideal choice for a jazz survey. A prolific composer for stage and screen, he wrote sundry jazz standards, including trademark numbers associated with players as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, Nat King Cole, Johnny Hodges, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk, and James Moody, who turned “I’m in the Mood for Love” into bebop’s only jukebox perennial. McHugh jazzed up stages with Blackbirds of 1928 (“I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” “I Must Have That Man,” “Digga Digga Doo”) and the Cotton Club reviews; he was instrumental in getting Ellington his Cotton Club audition and wrote several pieces for him, like “Harlem River Quiver” and “Harlemania.” He was said to have purchased “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” from Fats Waller, who his son claimed was so upset they became hits he would not allow them to be played in the house; this seems unlikely, since Waller’s record of the former helped make it a hit. Ellington claimed, somewhat cryptically, to be pleased that a rhythmic figure he introduced in “Birmingham Breakdown” was popularized by McHugh in “The New Low Down.” But McHugh did not have to steal; he wrote hundreds of songs and dozens of hits over three decades, from “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” in 1924 to “Too Young to Go Steady” in 1955. Blanchard has soundly chosen 11.

Blanchard is one of the most distinctive trumpet players of his generation, but his trademark, a purring glissando, has become fussy and predictable. It marked the first notes of his unaccompanied “Motherless Child,” on his eponymous first album, became more pronounced by the first notes of “Unconditional,” on Romantic Defiance, and is now an intrusive tic that, far from underscoring the very real lyricism of which he is capable, disables his solos, compromising invention with a mannered self-consciousness. Let’s Get Lost is pocked with these squeezed notes, which cross Rex Stewart’s half-cocked whimsy with Ruby Braff’s meditative irony but are too overworked to serve either purpose. During a recent set at the Village Vanguard, he put aside the glisses and whimpers during a driving “I’m in the Mood for Love,” and his vigorous playing suggested a happy repose that is increasingly hard to find on his records, however handsomely programmed or arranged.

That same tune is a highlight of the album. The mannerisms are more apparent than at the Vanguard, but he controls them and crafts a pleasant solo. Tenor saxophonist Brice Winston follows with the headiest blowing of the session, and when Blanchard returns they play in tandem, producing the first head of steam on an album halfway to the finish line. Blanchard’s best solo is on “Exactly Like You,” where he eschews stylistic habit in favor of the higher altitudes of improvisation. If only the whole album were as smartly played as these pieces, both arranged by Simon, who combines a simple unison voicing with tempo changes and canny harmonic substitutions that provide a contemporary tang. Simon also wrote endings, which are especially welcome on an album that often runs to ground with 40-second fade-outs. Seven tracks are given to the singers.

This is Blanchard’s third homage with voice, after The Billie Holiday Songbook, with Jeanie Bryson, and The Heart Speaks, with Ivan Lins singing his own songbook. They are all strangely subdued, sometimes to great effect, as in Bryson’s poised “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” her phrasing dispassionately removed from the driving background as she places her notes in all the right places. Singing McHugh, Cassandra Wilson and Diana Krall are most effective, especially when they mine the similar veiled low notes of their contraltos, the latter suggesting the influence of the former. Both have come a long way. Krall, whose Nat Cole repertory portended a callow gimmick, now sounds aged in the wood, and her “Let’s Get Lost” is intimate and sexy, keyed to a vamp and backed by her own piano, which capers suavely with Blanchard’s trumpet, before the long, long fade.

Wilson is more playful and rhythmic, phrasing “Don’t Blame Me” on the beat, steered by a strong bassline, and suggesting a depth that evades the other singers. She tends to recompose every song she sings, curving all the edges until they fit her mold—you could say the same of Holiday or Abbey Lincoln. As a result, she generates a degree of suspense as to how she will shape a tune, which notes will get pressed in what direction. Blanchard’s obbligatos are less precious than elsewhere, but Wilson introduces her own mannerism, hollowing out her voice, like a trombone, to accent an occasional note. She takes more risks, in her dour way, with “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” pitched so low she has to speak a few phrases, and altering her vocal mask a few times. At the Vanguard, the surprising thing about Wilson (who, along with Monheit, appeared for two nights of Blanchard’s gig) was how much star power she packs. Not too many years ago, she all but hid behind the band, barely acknowledging the audience. Stage presence isn’t something you are born with—even Sarah Vaughan, awkward at the outset, had to learn it. So has Wilson.

So has Dianne Reeves, but she’s more self-conscious about it. With Wilson, it isn’t about the dress or the hair, though she attends to both, but the way she takes the microphone and moves in on the material. With Reeves, sometimes you get the feeling she thinks she’s Judy Garland. On her new album, a tribute to Vaughan entitled The Calling (Blue Note), she poses as a grande dame on the cover, the foreground littered with roses, and sings amid an ocean of strings and woodwinds. At her best (“Embraceable You,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You,” “Send in the Clowns”), she is thoroughly persuasive, but she too often lacks the personality to keep the orchestra in its place. The same is true in the confined straits of the Blanchard album. On “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me,” she nails Vaughan’s cello range, but her embellishments are hapless as she loses sight of the song and the beat. She is in much better form on “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” a McHugh peak (with a Frank Loesser lyric), swinging nicely on her first chorus and with abandon on her second.

Jane Monheit’s two entries place her in the Russ Columbo tradition: Apparently she can sing nothing that isn’t set at a very slow tempo, and even then is too conscious of vocal production to give the song much due. Her pedestrian new CD, Come Dream With Me (Warlock), raises the question of what she is doing in a jazz context at all. She has the sort of large glowing voice, particularly bright in its upper reaches, that 30 years ago would have drawn her to “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” and 10 years ago to Cats. It is neither expressive nor appealing enough to justify her crawling pace, and her idea of jazz filigree is melismatic phrase endings, occasionally suggesting the moaning excesses of Morgana King.

At the Blanchard gig, she looked, at 23, appealing and sure, but out of her element. On “Too Young to Go Steady,” she sold the melody with dynamics and feeling while overdramatizing the banal lyric; the absence of wit was more problematic on the very witty “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” where the modestly cantering rhythm unmoored her, as it does on the record. Monheit has a reserve of evident talent, but is being pushed into an area obviously unsuitable for her. The implication is that in jazz the bar is low enough for a newcomer to find an immediate niche; judging from the hype, that may be true for now. The marketing of her CD is disingenuous to say the least. An all-star sextet is promised on the jacket, but never actually appears; the soloists play on only selected tracks, never together, on what is basically a pop session with strings. The booklet features strange upscale photos of Monheit wearing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm ringlets, lurking around a corner and humping a wall, along with notes by hack producer Joel Dorn that are almost entirely about hack producer Joel Dorn, while noting that the selections by Joni Mitchell and Bread prove she is not “just a jazz singer.” She is better on Blanchard’s album, but considering the vocalists he might have signed, he could have done better. So could Jimmy McHugh.



Scuba Diva

For her recent six-night Village Vanguard stay, 22-year-old singer Jane Monheit arrived onstage like Venus in a shell. Or like a creature rising from a wave. Apparently, mermaids intrigue her, and she’s appropriated the look. She wears a long, black fishtail dress. Her dark, wavy hair falls to her waist. She scatters sparkles on her face—with its expressive eyes and full lips—and on her graceful arms so that she seems to shimmer. Or, if it’s a torch song she’s delivering, she seems awash in crystalline tears.

But physical beauty isn’t everything. The voice is what counts—and the understanding of lyrics. Not only does Monheit have a pure and extraordinarily supple instrument, she knows exactly what she wants to do with it—her improvisations are flawless. The runner-up to Teri Thornton in the 1998 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, she has already mastered the jazz singer’s knack for riffing on melody and the cabaret singer’s know-how with words.

To sing standards two and three times older than she is, she’s listened very astutely to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, June Christy, and Carmen Macrae, and she already qualifies as their peer. Indeed, since Vaughan and Fitzgerald always intuited the drama in melodies but rarely in lyrics, Monheit may be said to have surpassed her idols in her ability to dive under the surface of a song. Throughout, she fronted musicians Grady Tate, Frank Wess, Jay Leonhart, and Bruce Barth (who provided mellow support) as if she’d been around as long as they have.

At the Vanguard she sang numbers from her first CD, Never Never Land (N-Coded), and threw in a few extras. Mentioning in her sultry-little-girl way that she has an affinity for ballads, she proved it with easy but never glib renditions of two torchy numbers—the Lou Carter-Herb Ellis “Detour Ahead” and the Ned Washington-Victor Young “My Foolish Heart”—and an especially doleful “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” that would have gratified Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster no end. On opening night she crooned, to guest artist Bucky Pizzarelli’s accompaniment, the treacherous Fran Landesman- Tommy Wolf “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” as if she were tossing off her ABCs. In Annie Ross and Wardell Gray’s “Twisted,” done with amusing languor, she trilled, “I knew I was a genius.” She’s got that right. —David Finkle

Holy Smoke

Bawdy juvenile antics, odes to violence, and petitions to altered states of consciousness hung thick as herbal smog in the Continental Airlines Arena Saturday night. Between the pyrotechnics, riveting movie clips, and nearly perfect sound system, “Up In Smoke” was as adeptly orchestrated as Dr. Dre’s crisp metaphysical tracks. Dare I call it family entertainment? Cuz e’rybody —from the cannabis connoisseurs to new-to-this suburban teens to the old school (that would be me, old school being “21 and over”)—was spent after the relentless multiclimactic ride to the left side. Blackgirls squirmed a little when a call for the ‘hos rang out; whiteboys wriggled in their seats during the “white jokes.” Whitegirls probably laughed least, but all cliques eventually aligned themselves with the boyz in the hood.

The once revolutionary Ice Cube and his beefy Wesside partners spoke now in cross-marketing tongues (“Who saw Next Friday?”), and given the extracurricular activities going on up in that piece, adroitly left “Fuck Tha Police” off the lineup too. At first, Eminem’s matricidal rants shook me (especially given that his own babymamma just slashed her wrists), but when he sang his lost-boy blues over a spooked-out ’80s-metal guitar solo that caressed a throbbin’ hip-hop track, I bore witness to a holy miscegenation that begat a more honest future. And even if he committed the ultimate sin of fallin’ off the beat a few times, the talented Slim Shady redeemed himself by rippin’ the shit outta “Forgot About Dre.”

Of course a gangsta party is incomplete without pimpin’ ‘hos, part of the House of Chronic’s repertoire for years. From the vulgar vignette “You Can’t Make a Ho a Housewife” to Nate Dogg fakeass-Donell-Jones-crooning “Ain’t No Fun” to Chronic 2001‘s “Fuck You,” Snoop and Dre resumed their place in my heart as that sly nigga that keep gettin’ back in cuz he be layin’ it down . . . well. As usual, Dre and Snoop had me throwing in my save-the-girls towel and properly shaking my ass, while they droned on about nut sacks on tonsils and other things “sticky-icky-icky.”

Finally, the 64 screeched to a slowdown with a drawn-out remix of “Let Me Ride” and a boring and self-indulgent N.W.A. tribute. But I could never be mad at Dre for long—the mighty, mighty D-R remains the most artful plastic surgeon of hip-hop’s ever changing face. —Angela Bronner