December 2002

Jane Monheit - In the Sun
N2K 4234
Released: 2002

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

The rocket carrying Jane Monheit’s career into orbit is still climbing into the stratosphere of the jazz-diva universe. Monheit's initial releases (2000’s Never Never Land and 2001’s Come Dream with Me) together with her vocal prowess and undeniable attractiveness combined to fuel her continued meteoric ascent. In the Sun, her latest release, while continuing to inject a power boost to her career, may cause mission control at N-Coded Music an anxious moment or two, however.

There is much to attract attention to In the Sun. Monheit breaks with her usual tradition of singing jazz standards with either trio or quartet accompaniment for a more eclectic mixture of songs and instrumentation. And therein lie the reasons for the momentary trepidation that her label and fans may feel. Far too often she comes across more as the crooner than the jazz singer. The somewhat sparse arrangements on a number of the songs here put a greater emphasis on her vocal presentation, and that's where the real problems arise.

Monheit all too often sounds stiff, formal, and not fully comfortable with the choice of material chosen for In the Sun. She seldom takes chances with a song, preferring instead to simply sing the words. For example, on the standard "Tea for Two," in which only the piano of Michael Kanan supports her, she seldom varies her cadence or her diction. It almost sounds as if she’s singing in a monotone. There is nothing original to her version of this well-known tune that will make it her own. On her rendition of "Love Has No Pride," also accompanied solely by piano (this time it’s Kenny Archer), Monheit puts more of herself into the song, letting us see deeper into her musical soul.

But when she pulls it all together, as she does on songs such as that old chestnut "Cheek To Cheek," you can really hear the difference. Here she sounds relaxed, ready to improvise more. This shouldn’t really come as too much a surprise, given Ms. Monheit’s preference for standards and a more conventional jazz lineup (here it’s Michael Kanan on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Kenny Washington on drums and Joel Frahm on tenor sax).

The sound on In the Sun is easily the equal of her two previous efforts, and they were both very highly regarded. Joel Dorn is still occupying the producer's chair and Gene Paul continues to do all the mixing and mastering. These two have been involved in the recording industry long enough and have all the requisite experience needed to produce an enjoyable sonic experience, so the high-quality sound here is both expected and delivered.

I’m at something of a crossroads regarding In the Sun and Jane Monheit. While I applaud her willingness to branch out from the usual standards repertoire, the over-reliance on string arrangements used on many of the tunes here tends to take much of the feeling of spontaneity away, thereby diluting the results. Add to that the stiffness I hear in Monheit’s vocal presentation, and I wonder if this is as good as it’s ever going to get. It’s my fervent hope that that is not the case, that this is nothing more than a blip on the radar screen, and that Jane Monheit will continue to grow both musically and stylistically. While I’ll not discourage anyone from purchasing In the Sun, I would caution not to expect too much.