By Don Heckman
I pushed aside one of my rules Saturday night – the rule that says once a year is enough to review most artists. When I saw that Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli were performing together at the shiny new Valley Performing Arts Center, I decided to make an exception to the fact that I’d written about both of them well within the past year. The idea of hearing these two uniquely gifted artists working off each other was too much to resist.
As it turned out, however, they weren’t exactly doing an evening’s performance together. Each did their own set, with the Monheit/Pizzarelli togetherness of the evening consisting of only three songs. I”d obviously hoped for more, and the response of the full house crowd suggested that they would have been happy for more, as well.
But there are no complaints about what we got during the brief duo segment: A lovely rendering of “Tonight You Belong To Me,” the duet Monheit sings with Pizzarelli on her new album, Home. A gorgeous vocal by Monheit on Ivan Lins’ “Love Dance,” with Pizzarelli’s guitar providing the rhythm. And a brisk pairing – backed by the Pizzarelli band – on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
Beyond that, the evening consisted, as I’ve already noted, of two individual sets. And Monheit came close to stealing the show with hers. Blessed with extraordinary vocal skills, she used them all at the service of her musical storytelling.
On her opening “Old Devil Moon,” she swung briskly with bassist Neal Miner, matching and joining him in phrase after phrase. Her version of “Look For The Silver Lining,” was a stunning display of musical paraphrase, transforming the original into a unique improvisation. The same was true of “Stardust,” in which Monheit came up with one brilliantly spontaneous line after another – jazz singing at its finest.
And there was more: A touching “I Wish You Love,” a reading of “Every Time We Say Goodbye” that displayed the full gamut of her gift for far-reaching emotional dynamics. A jaunty “I Won’t Dance,” recalling her video duet on the same tune with Michal Buble. And another Brazilian delight – Antonio Carlos Jobim’s soaring “Samba de Avaio.” All of it supported superbly by her pianist/arranger Michael Kanan, drummer (and husband) Rick Montalbano and bassist Miner.
Pizzarelli’s set overflowed with his characteristic rhythmic buoyancy. Opening with “Will You Still Be Mine,” he proceeded with a rapid fire romp through the Great American Songbook: “It Wouldn’t Be Make Believe,” “Just You, Just Me” and “Will You Still Be Mine,” often tossing in segments of his high spirited, guitar and voice riffing
` The balance of the program surveyed material from his new album, Double Exposure, in which he combines seemingly disparate songs into unlikely musical marriages. Among them, Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was blended with the standard of the same name. Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” was musically cut and pasted with Tom Waits’ “Drunk On the Moon.” And John Lennon’s “I Feel Fine” came together with Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder.”
The result had a certain kind of novelty value, sometimes more than that. But more often, one simply hoped for one or the other of the two songs within any of the blendings to simply come to life on its own. Pizzarelli delivered it all with his usual panache. But – recalling his charming December program at Disney Hall — I kept missing the musical byplay and the witty banter with his wife, the talented Broadway singer, Jessica Molaskey.
A final word about the new Valley Performing Arts Center, which is a stunning addition to the artistic life of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Pleasing architecturally, it also offers a large warm and inviting people space inside a stunning marble, tile and glass environment. Add to that the hall’s excellent acoustics and generously comfortable seating, and one can expect that audiences from the other side of the hill will soon discover the pleasures of this impressive cultural destination.