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Friday, April 24, 2009
Jane Monheit first attracted attention as the runnerup in the 1998 Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition held in New York, but her musical sensibility seems better suited to Broadway show tunes than jazz standards.
In fact, the Long Island native has been compared to no less than Barbra Streisand for her tendency to wring every drop of emotion from a song without losing control of the melody or the phrasing — a coloratura cabaret singer with ear-bending technique.
Monheit reached the apogee of this florid style on her 2007 collection "Surrender," where the material, the orchestral arrangements and the voluptuous production all combine to cinematic effect. Even the three bossa nova numbers she sings in Portuguese — one with veteran Brazilian singer-songwriter Ivan Lins — are given a treatment less like Joao Gilberto and more like Jackie Gleason's lush easy-listening albums from the early 1960s.
Monheit, who turned 31 last year and became a mother, finally reconciles the sometimes conflicting sides of her stylistic persona on her new album "The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me," where Cole Porter and Comden-Green chestnuts sit comfortably alongside newer songs by Paul Simon, Corinne Bailey Rae and Fiona Apple. The production downplays large-scale arrangements in favor of a small versatile ensemble that allows for greater vocal spontaneity and experimentation.
The Streisand comparison still holds, but Monheit never belts, even in larger venues. Unlike a lot of pop singers, she doesn't equate volume with energy. Her sort of energy is generated in a closed system. That's why Monheit shows off to better effect in nightclubs, where her intimate approach makes more sense. This time she'll be coming to Japan with a jazz piano trio, which means her quiet intensity should burn even hotter.
Jane Monheit plays May 1 at Blue Note Nagoya (6:30 and 9:15 p.m.; ¥7,500;  961-6311); and May 2-5 at Blue Note Tokyo (7 and 9:30 p.m. on May 2; 6:30 and 9 p.m. on May 3-5; ¥7,350;  5485-0088).