In her new CD, devoted to 12 songs she cherishes from old movies, vocalist Jane Monheit stands out in her renditions of ballads. Her sweet bell-like voice, riding on a cushion of lush orchestral arrangements, flourishes in the Cole Porter classics "In the Still of the Night" and "Do I love You." And especially in "Dancing in the Dark," in which her starkly beautiful tone, at times soft as a whisper, becomes one with the lush strings.
Her up-tempo numbers, all in small-group settings, are not quite up to the slow-tempo tunes, sounding a little forced and jerky at times. She is helped immeasurably, though, in "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Love Me or Leave Me," by Christian McBride's buoyant bass work, along with pianist Geoffrey Keezer and drummer Lewis Nash--all of whom keep her firmly in the groove.
A relative newcomer at 26, this is Monheit's third album and first with Sony Classical. She seems clearly on her way to a big career. At this point, it is natural, to compare her with Diana Krall, who swings more naturally on fast upbeat numbers.
Ironically, critics said much of the same thing about a young Ella Fitzgerald, coming on the jazz scene in the late thirties. Many wrote that she had a great voice but didn't have the jazz soul of someone like Billie Holiday or Anita O'Day. But give Monheit a few years to mature, and she could become one of the greats.
On "I Won't Dance" she is joined by the young Sinatra-influenced Michael Buble, for a charming give-and-take in the song immortalized by Rogers and Astaire. On a couple of intimate duets, Monheit really hits her stride, joining pianist Michael Kanan for Jerome Kern's plaintive "Bill" and guitarist Romero Lubambo in Gershwin's "Embraceable You." With the latter her sexy, seductive sweetness is palpable.
Monheit closes the CD with "Over the Rainbow," which has become her trademark song which is certainly appropriate here in a recording featuring movie music. This time it is a version used in the recent film, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow."