By Don Heckman
Jane Monheit is at Catalina Bar & Grill this week, following up on last year’s stellar performance at the venue. Once again, she’ll be there for the rest of the week, through New Year’s Eve on Monday night. And her opening night appearance on Wednesday was a superb display of the warm, engaging style that has become more and more expressive over the 12 years since the release of her first album, Never Never Land.
When I reviewed that initial recording in the Los Angeles Times, I wrote “OK, the name isn’t familiar, but here’s a flat-out guarantee that it will be within the year.” As it has in fact become, and with good cause. And now, at 35, Monheit brings a mature creative perspective to the rich musicality that has always been an essential characteristic of her vocal art.
Backed by the warm, embracing support of her regular band — Michael Kanan, piano, Neal Miner, bass, and her husband, Rick Montalbano, drums – she opened her six night run at Catalina’s with a program overflowing with a range of songs best suited for her interpretive magic.
She began with the Gershwin’s “Soon,” before swinging into Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night.” The latter tune was transformed into a showcase for Monheit’s improvisational imagination, especially during the passages in which she sang wordless melodic paraphrases.
Other fascinating versions of familiar material followed: “Born to Be Blue,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” (appropriate, given the date), “Tea For Two,” “Taking A Chance On Love,” “Nobody Else But Me” and “Cheek To Cheek.”
Among the offbeat choices in her program – a jaunty version of “Little Man You”ve Had A Busy Day” and “I Won’t Dance” (missing only the presence of Michael Buble from their duet version), and a surprisingly dark interpretation of the Bergman’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” And, as she did a year ago, a richly felt “Over the Rainbow,” done – like her other songs – with the intimacy of a born musical story-teller.
As I mentioned earlier, Monheit continues at Catalina’s through Monday night and New Year’s Eve. That adds up to four more opportunities to hear this gifted artist in action. And great singers should be heard at every opportunity. Add Jane Monheit to that stellar list and enjoy the New Year’s revelry in her delightful company.
Photo by Faith Frenz.