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All the press about vocalist Jane Monheit's, Surrender, now on Concord Records, is glowing with praise, and after a few spins I'm inclined to agree...to an extent. It's a bit like listening to a Barbra Streisand album. Most would interpret that as a supreme compliment to Jane Monheit but it is not meant that way.
In the same way that Streisand would be expected to provide a polished, beautifully sung product that features carefully orchestrated songs, photographs, etc., Monheit does, indeed, provide a wonderfully prepared and delivered series of romantic songs burnished by instrumentation and strings, with the presence of some musically significant friends. It has the same effect as being the "soundtrack" of a one-hour television special presenting the voluptuous looks and voice of Monheit.
It seems a long trip from her debut, Never Never Land (N-Coded, 2000), that crept in with the new millennium armed with only a sextet that included saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman and pianist Kenny Barron, an aggressive public relations firm, and the implication that this was a jazz vocalist who would be moving up the charts and polls.
Unfortunately, the following years have resulted in a series of albums and live performances seemingly determined to present Monheit as a sophisticated cabaret/pop entertainer, dazzling audiences with her allure.
Billed as a "bossa nova" valentine album, the album has been very competently produced by Jorge Calandrillo who has, in the past, cast his magic for such legends as Celine Dion, Tony Bennett and Streisand. The ensemble that has been assembled for this date include saxophonist Ari Ambrose; pianist Michael Kanan; bassist Orlando LeFleming; guitarist Miles Okazaki and drummer/husband Rick Montalbano. Special guests include keyboardist/singer Ivan Lins, who duets with Monheit on "Rio de Maio"; Toots Thielemans, who shows up with his famed harmonica for "Caminhos Crusados"; and Sergio Mendes who plays piano on his own "So Many Stars."
Although the album has been tabbed as Brazilian, it remains about as close to that description as background entrance music for a corporate convention. Humming some of these melodies at such business functions would be preferable to the lite-rock choices that are usually provided. However, when it comes to categorization, the album remains a watered-down version of bossa nova. On her two numbers, Jobim's "So Tinha De Ser Com Voce" and "Caminhos Crusados, Monheit's Portuguese is literate and somewhat exaggerated but not the way Rosa Passos or Joyce would be expected to sing them.
The best example of bossa nova at work on Surrender is Monheit's take of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed. Of the ballads, both "Like A Love" (from the pens of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Dori Caymmi) and "So Many Stars" (written by the Bergmans and Mendes) are beautifully sung by Monheit, but if you go back almost forty years, you can hear the original version sung by Lani Hall (as lead vocalist for Sergio Mendes' Brasil '66)easily the favorite.
If You Went Away; Surrender; Rio De Malo; Like A Lover; S
Jane Monheit: lead and background vocals; Michael Kanan: piano and Rhodes; Miles Okazaki: electric and accoustic guitars; Ari Ambrose: saxophone; Orlando LeFleming: bass; Rick Montalbano: drums; Jorge Calandrelli: synthesizers (2, 3, 8);Peter Wolf: orchestral arrangements and synthesizers (6); Paulinho DaCosta: percussion (1-5, 8, 9); Ramon Stagnaro: guitar (3); Dave Carpenter: bass (3); Alphonso Johnson: bass (6); Mike Shapiro: drums and percussion (6); Toots Thielemans: harmonica (9); Ivan Lins: vocals and Yamaha S-90 keyboard (3); Sergio Mendes: piano (6).