Monika Heidemann, or Monika H as she prefers to be called, joins Julie Hardy and Brenda Earle as part of the new wave of very talented contemporary Jazz singer/composers coming out of New York City. One couldn't hope for a more resounding endorsement than she received from highly respected Dominique Eade: "Monika always had her ear pointed in a different direction; she wasn't going for the beaten path and she stayed true to the sound she was after. She's smart, hip and has a great sense of humor, all of which show up in her stylish, heartfelt and intriguing music." Like her good friend Julie Hardy, Monika H sought out Eade's expertise as a vocal coach.
With her debut album Bright, Monika H has indeed embarked on a different path than most Jazz artists venture down. She describes the CD as, "A palette of everything that I like." "When I listen to the album," she says, "I think a lot of the songs are quite different. It is personal and has a mysterious quality to it. It is melancholic, dreamy and ethereal (all at the same time)." She says that some of the songs bear a stronger element to them that originates within "my upbringing in the rock (music) of the eighties."
Before embarking on a solo career, Monika H performed in a variety of genres with different ensembles. In some settings she was a side person playing her saxophone. It is Monika H's diverse background singing in an a cappella ensemble, performing for a rock band, singing in a reggae group and directing a choral group in Vermont, that have contributed to the many colors of Bright.
The opening track "Organs" is a composite of a cappella vocals introducing what is best described as surrealistic soft rock meets Jazz instrumentals. The lyrics to "Organ" are not only off the beaten path, you won't even find them near the path! Here's a bit of a preview: "I've got some friends/who are living inside me/Organs and flesh, Bones bones!/ I saw the serpent/We have more hair than she we are/better off, I think/
In the year 2000, the singer/composer added another element to her musical repertoire. She left the American music scene for Brazil. "I wanted to get away, but keep it musical," she says and then continues, "I wanted to experience another culture and live in a place that I didn't know anything about. I rented an apartment in Salvador, learned the music and learned the language." She says most often her teachers for both were the street musicians she encountered.
In speaking about the wide array of music that she is drawn to Monika H says, "I think in this day and age, most musicians are like that. We explore because we have access to so much. The world is getting smaller. It is not uncommon for every musician to know about almost everything that is going on in the world of music (in terms of) style and what it all sounds like."
When it comes to her own compositions she says, "It is not something that I really think about. (For instance I don't) say, 'Oh, I will do a rock section here or I will do a Brazilian section there.' It is more of an internal thing. I think I have soaked up a lot of different styles and different sounds."
"I really like the idea of having the musicians tell the story of the song rather than just the singer tell the story. I like to have that completeness to it. It's not that I don't like what other singers do; it has just been my approach. I like that sound," Monika H comments concerning the way she has approached her music in the past.
One of the more prominent musicians who appears on this album is the talented vibraphonist Matt Moran. "I believe that only Matt Moran could really be playing my music in the way that I was envisioning it at the time. I saw him for the first time a few years ago when I first moved to New York City. (He was performing) with The Claudia Quintet. He has a great sound and is creative. Nobody plays the vibraphone like him. The dreaminess and tone quality of the vibraphone I think compliments my music a lot."
The other instrument that comes to the forefront on the CD Bright is the bass. "I really love the bass. It is one of my favorite instruments in Jazz. I think it (adds) to the darkness on some of the songs. I think a lot of the songs on Bright are pretty dark," says Monika H.
Monika H demonstrates her prowess in Jazz with "The Race" as the tune opens with a liberal dose of scat before descending into a more subtle Jazz tune supported by Moran's vibraphone. She confesses to being partial to creating more of a complete band feeling with her music and although only drums, guitar, bass and vibraphone appear on the recording, she has been successful in accomplishing a much fuller sound. This is particularly evident during the instrumental portions of the title track "Bright" that reach for a more orchestral sound.
Her music is infused with ethereal instrumentals and her lyrics with whimsical imagery. The poetry of "Keep On" should be a must read on the syllabus of any English major. The instrumentals are weaved seamlessly with the lyrics and provide beautiful textures that you can peel back endlessly.
Monika H admits she has been taking a new approach to her compositions recently. "I always have these lyrics in my head and I am continually writing them down. I am actually starting from that standpoint more than I ever have been." She says this was the approach she took with her title track. "I am finding that when I write the lyrics, there is a very natural rhythm to them. If you take any kind of lyric whether it is poetry or music, there is always some kind of rhythm that naturally flows through it. It is about being sensitive to that. You play with that rhythmically in your head and then find a nice phrasing for it," she says.
Continuing to discuss the composing of "Bright" she says, "With 'Bright,' it was the melody and the harmony coming out at the same time. I worked with the bass line first along with the melody," she says. Her usual approach is to begin working, "with the melody and working the bass line out in my head afterwards."
"Lately when I sit down to write something there will be a mood to those lyrics when I sit down or I will put myself in that mood to bring out whatever the mood to the lyrics are," says Monika H.
Keep your ears open for Monika H. (Heidemann) because you are going to be hearing a lot of good music from her in the days ahead.