Singapore's King of Swing, as pianist Jeremy Monteiro is fondly known in the Lion City-state, has been plying his professional craft since 1976. Since then, Monteiro has played thousands of gigs, many of those with the likes of James Moody
, Jimmy Cobb
, Michael Brecker
, Benny Golson
, Charlie Haden
, Jay Anderson
and Ernie Watts
. Talk about paying your dues. When you add to that list Simon and Garfunkel and English troubadour Earl Okin, it is fair to say that this is not Monteiro's first rodeo. This is his 47th album in fact, but the first to feature him singing on every track.
Weaned on Nat King Cole
and an avowed fan of The Carpenters, Monteiro has long been appreciative of the vocal arts. He has collaborated with some of the finest, including Jon Hendricks
, Bobby McFerrin
, Cassandra Wilson
, Matt Monro and former Count Basie vocalist Carmen Bradford
. That just a little of their magic dust might have rubbed off on Monteiro is maybe no surprise.
It was not until the early 2000s, however, that Monteiro began to sing the odd standard or two on his gigs. Two decades onand having consistently honed this side of his musical personalityMonteiro delivers a burnished set of standards where, for once, his renowned piano playing is not front and center.
Electing to interpret old war-horses like "Smile," "Blame it on My Youth," "Moon River," "Let's Fall in Love" or "Walkin' my Baby Home"all associated with Nat King Colemeans that Monteiro's versions, like so many others before these, almost inevitably suffer just a little by comparison. Perhaps a more eclectic set with a few deeper cuts might have served him better, but then again, this a homage album of sorts.
All that said, Monteiro possesses a pleasing voice, with just a hint of his native accent rendering these interpretations his own. He remains faultlessly tuneful throughout, while his warm phrasing and assured delivery, undoubtedly owing something to Cole, are immaculate.
Strings, co-arranged by Monteiro and Michael Veerapen
a fine jazz pianist in his own rightand conducted by Han Oh, color roughly half the tunes. They lend a lush if somewhat sentimental sheen to the more romantic numbers, notably "Josefina," the one original composition. Here, Monteiro pays heartfelt tribute to his wife, with veteran saxophonist Tony Lakatos
' casting a spell on soprano.
As ever, Monteiro surrounds himself with top-notch musicians. Guitarist Wesley Gehring takes a couple of pearly solos, notably on the swinging "Candy." Lakatos smokes on tenor and caresses on soprano, while harmonica player Jens Bunge evokes the spirit of Toots Thielemansanother giant with whom Monteiro has playedon a handsome reading of "Moon River." Drummer Hong Chanutr Techatananana long-term Monteiro collaboratorand bassist Ben Poh provide sympathetic ballast. The latter's earthy solo on the tenderly uplifting album closer "Softly as I Leave You," provides an individual highlight.
There are flashes enough of Monteiro's dazzling piano chops and trademark swing to satisfy his loyal fan base, but there is no escaping that this album marks a new chapter in Monteiro's career. It is one that will surely usher in new fans. Who says you cannot teach an old dog new tricks?
Candy; Smile; Josefina; Moon River; Blame it on My Youth; Let's Fall in Love; You'll Never Know; Walkin' my Baby
Back Home; My Romance; Softly As I leave You.
Tony Lakatos: soprano saxophone.
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