Vocalist Jane Monheit has been somewhat of a polarizing figure among jazz listeners and critics. Although she showed great potential following her second place finish in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition and won the Recording Debut of the Year Award from the Jazz Journalist Association, her recorded efforts since then have been a bit uneven, often with an overemphasis on overdubbing and occasionally, insufficient preparation for certain pieces. But this previously unissued session, recorded during a visit to the United Kingdom when she was briefly between label commitments a few years ago, proves very revealing.
With a strong supporting cast of European musicians, Monheit tackles the difficult works of Charles Mingus on stage at Ronnie Scott's in London. She nails "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," the moving tribute Mingus wrote in memory of Lester Young, offering a powerful interpretation that will silence earlier critics. She shows off her playful side with her adept scatting through the brisk arrangement of "Boogie Stop Shuffle," trading licks with trumpeter Harley Herald. Mingus' demanding "Portrait" is putty in her hands, as she manages this challenging chart with ease, also featuring the potent sax of Englishman Webster Bean. Monheit wails with the band in the gospel-infused "Better Get Hit in Your Soul."
Another revelation is her debut of Mingus' long lost lyrics to "She's Just Popular Miss Hybrid," re-titled "Lonely Little Girl" and played as a duet with bassist Fiorello Arcomeiti. She sits out the band's one instrumental feature, "Tonight at Noon."
Perhaps her most stunning accomplishment is her haunting wordless vocal in a seven-minute arrangement of "Meditations" (which was inspired by listening to Eric Dolphy's flute solos on the many recordings made during Mingus' 1964 European tour). For much of the work she is backed solely by the promising young Polish-German pianist Zbignew Diehl.
Tonight at Noon makes one wonder what else by Jane Monheit remains unreleased.
Personnel: Jane Monheit: vocals; Zbignew Diehl: piano; Harley Herald: trumpet, flugelhorn; Webster Bean: tenor sax;
Fiorello Arcomeiti: bass; Dieter Kirchemaus: drums; Hugh G. Tallant: liner notes.