MGF Reviews Jane Monheit – Surrender

Jane Monheit – Surrender
Concord Records (5/1/07)
Jazz / Vocal

Discounting the Carlos Santana DVD I reviewed, this is the first jazz album in my critical history. That being said, it is probably the first female jazz vocalist album I have listened to all the way though. I tried Norah, I really did. I am in heavy waters… either you know jazz or you don’t. I own about ten Thelonious Monk records, a few “Jockjaw” Davis pressings and on my iTunes I have Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Kind of Blue. Finally, one of my favorite albums is a Jazz singer named “Little” Jimmy Scott. This may sound like a relatively impressive jazz collection until you realize that I don’t understand any of these albums. I love them and listen to them constantly but I don’t understand them. I don’t understand why Miles Davis named the second track in Kind of Blue, “Freddie Freeloader”. If I was giving this oratory in a smoky jazz bar, perhaps in between Jane Monheit’s sets, I would hope that a withering man in an oversized suit would cut thought the smoke, throw the arm that clutched a wavy whiskey around my shoulder, and shake his loosened neck around saying, “That, my boy, is jazz.” Or perhaps I would be thrown out. Winging a review of jazz will have men with thin moustaches and black cigarettes knocking lightly at my door with winded whispered words of incredulity at the sheer gall of my review. I tell these people now, in their own language:

“Chill, daddy-o, I know this Monheit cat is hip. She’s 18-karat, baby. How many other cats from The Apple get an air check at such a young age? That barnburner’s my bag. I saw this brainbird once in this barrelhouse; backed by this real balloon-lungs on the trumpet. I may just be some boogie man, but Monheit blows my top more than he ever could. I put this chick on my cans and just sink back in the gutbucket music. Dig, she is Supermurgitroid and I’m booted. So, hand me that skin, I’m a hipster just like you.”

What just happened? I blacked out. Anyway, I liked this album. It is slender, sexy, and…(Checking my Thesaurus)… sanguine. Loser that I am I had to flip to the track that I knew in order to make an honest comparison for this album. “Moon River”, yes, Mancini’s “Moon River”, was hit perfectly. I didn’t laugh but a few times, but it is “Moon River”. She didn’t go crazy with it. Playing, as she does throughout the album with the undertows of a song, the subtle melodies. She trusts her voice enough not to wonder off into unneeded trails and glass shattering falsettos.

Sergio Mendes produced a track on the album called “So Many Stars”. You know when people ask you if you have heard of a band. (i.e. “Hey, Dan, have you heard Cantankerous Tinker Toys?) And you are forced to respond. (i.e. “I have heard of Cantankerous Tinker Toys, but I haven’t heard them.”) That is who Sergio Mendes to me. In my head he resembles a rotund Ricky Ricardo. A Yahoo! image search tells me, with a smile that touches his ears and Panama hat, that he doesn’t go around hurting critics that call him a chubby Ricky Ricardo. As for his talents, I know very little. I just can’t get into it, and I toss that up to the gods of a culture gap. The song “So Many Stars” builds this image that I should be wearing a turtleneck, knee-deep in a conversation pit, trying to put the moves on a broad named Bunny. And if you think me calling a woman a broad is offensive, trust me, Bunny doesn’t mind.

Monheit, who can officially be added to the long list of songstress crushes I have, really does earn the comparisons to Ella Fitzgerald. Even when she ventures into the Latin sound with a few tracks in Portuguese, as so many female singers are doing these days, it seems natural, just as smooth as the tracks in English. Somehow she doesn’t scream, “Hey Everyone. Look at me all singing in Portuguese and whatnot!” Is this an album for jazz lovers and lovers who listen to jazz? Yes. Is this for a Norah Jones fan? Maybe. I don’t think it is as accessible. Is this the album to kick start a new found love of jazz? No.



“Little” Jimmy Scott – If You Only Knew (1955)
What can you say about a man who has Kallmann’s syndrome, a genetic condition that stunts growth around five feet and prevents a person from reaching puberty? Scott’s voice was stuck, for the rest of his life, in an almost comical soprano voice. You will choke on those laughs when you hear him croon a tune like” All or Nothing at All” or “Oh, What I Wouldn’t Give”.

For any David Lynch and/or Twin Peaks (Hooray for Season 2 on DVD!) fans, you may remember Scott on the series finale singing “Sycamore Trees”. A more human Lynchian character could not be created. You will start the album out of sheer curiosity and end up wrapped around “Little” Jimmy’s little finger.

“Freddie Freeloader” by Miles Davis, from the album Kind of Blue (1959)
In all seriousness, this is one of my favorite Miles Davis tracks.

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