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Monheit's Dilemma

By Stephen Brookes
The Washington Post •  August 13, 2007

Jane Monheit has one of those protean voices that, it seems, can do whatever it wants. It can steam into a sultry ballad, drift smokily around a Brazilian samba, scat through a driving jazz number and even bring done-to-death standards back to life. It’s so versatile you could probably send the damn thing to the UN, sit back for an hour, and watch it put an end to world hunger.

monheitWEB.jpgBut Monheit’s dilemma is how to find a voice of her own in that amazing range. And as she showed at the Birchmere on Friday night, she’s still looking.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2000 with the jazzy “Never Never Land,” Monheit’s been dipping her toe in everywhere: a little cabaret, a little pop, and most recently (with this year’s Brazilian-flavored  “Surrender”) a lot of bossa nova.  So it wasn’t too surprising that Friday’s concert was a smorgasbord, with everything from Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” to a breakneck version of that Annie Ross classic, “Twisted.” Backed by an able but low-key five piece band, Monheit was in fine form, and turned in near-perfect accounts of numbers like Harold Arlen’s “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (in an arrangement by her pianist, Michael Kanan) and the Sergio Mendes song, “So Many Stars.”

Elsewhere, though, things sometimes got a bit overcooked. A teary-cheeked account of “Moon River” pretty much flooded its banks, and Peggy Lee’s dark, edgy “The Shining Sea” just sounded confused – Monheit may be most convincing when she keeps to shallower waters. But her forays into Brazilian music fared better. She obviously loves this material, and brought off Ivan Lins’ “Rio de Maio” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “So Tinha De Ser Com Voce” with style and a kind of nice-girl sexiness. Is this where she’s found her true voice? Maybe – but stay tuned. Monheit’s wanderings probably aren’t over yet.

 

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 at 09:50AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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