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Jane Monheit - Come Dream With Me Print E-mail
Tuesday, 02 November 2004
performance 8
sound 8
1st released 2001
released 2004

Thank you, Jane, for the absolutely gorgeous album – how often can you say that? – and the accompanying moral dilemma.

There’s not much to pick apart and analyze here, though pick a bit I must (it’s my job), because when you listen many, many, many times, as any good reviewer should (but few do), you start to notice little things on the tenth time through that you didn’t catch before and, by the twentieth listen, you may have a completely different opinion than your first impression.
But for this 5.1 mix rerelease of Jane Monheit’s sophomore effort, I was listening particularly for something I always found missing in her work: real emotion. Maybe if I focused on 11 songs over and over, I would hear something different, a nuance to her presentation that had escaped me. Maybe this audiophile mix would help me hear it. Gradually the question that posed the dilemma took shape: what if I’m missing the emotion in the form? What if she is expressing genuine feeling by the very act of choosing and hitting, and bending and shaping and splitting and caressing, the notes with which she amazes us? What would Ella do?

I thought about but never did go to my Ella discs for comparisons, because memory served well enough. My guess is even Jane would agree that Ella is the benchmark, of a singer with a faultless crystalline voice who can hit any note in the universe, precisely, perfectly, with ease and grace. I thought about a phrase I was going to include in the review, that sideman trumpeter Tom Harrell here expressed much more emotion with his instrument than did Monheit with hers, and then wondered, is it fair to ascribe soul to Harrell’s notes by the way they’re tonally and rhythmically nuanced, and yet when Monheit does the same, to look for something beyond that? Maybe this was a standard that should not exist, and Jane Monheit is the next Great Jazz Singer? Maybe Ella and Sarah and Carmen did no more than what Jane does, but this is just a different time, and it’s not easy to make room in that pantheon.

The moral dilemma was resolved by reminding myself that in music, feeling is always the standard and always trumps technique, though dazzling talent is entertaining and should be acknowledged and praised; by remembering the joy in Ella’s voice, the melancholy, the playfulness, and so many other singers without her incomparable technical gifts who have moved me with their ability and willingness to live rather than just sing a song; by listening so many, many times to this album for precisely that, and finding it so sparingly.

Jane Monheit has an absolutely astoundingly gorgeous and perfect voice, and she has learned to use it with stunning skill. Come Dream with Me is thrilling to listen to. But not moving.

From the riveting a cappella opening of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” through cherished jazz standards and a couple written to challenge singers (Jobim’s “Waters of March” and the Ellington-Strayhorn gem “Something to Live For”), to a couple of jazzed-up pop tunes (“If” – I never thought I could even listen to, let alone admire, any Bread song, and the outstanding closer “A Case of You” by her early influence Joni Mitchell, whom I’ve always considered a jazz singer), you are constantly aware of two things: how good the band is, and how anyone can play with notes the way Monheit does.

The core band is the trio of the great Kenny Barron on piano, Christian McBride on bass (Ron Carter played on her first album – two of the best in the business) and the highly-regarded ex-Ray Brown drummer Gregory Hutchinson, augmented by stellar sidemen Harrell and Michael Brecker (sax), and Richard Bona on guitar and fretless bass as the sole accompanist on the “A Case of You.” Joel Dorn (Roberta Flack, Bette Midler, Jimmy Scott, Aaron Neville – he knows singers!) produced and, with his judicious use of these tremendous players, gave us the space to hear just what Jane can do with every single note. So she had everything covered, a superb canvas laid out for her awesome talents.

I can’t go too over the top in praising her use of her instrument. Listen in a quiet room, without distraction, in either mix, and your jaw will drop, even if you’ve heard every jazz vocalist ever recorded. But – she’s just not there inhabiting the song the way you must to be considered truly great. It’s hard to define, but when you hear it – or don’t – you know. When I heard her live a few years ago, actually around the time of this album, I walked away feeling impressed but strangely unaffected.

But there’s hope. You can polish your talent, but what she’s got is a gift God doesn’t pass out but a couple of times in a generation; feeling, on the other hand, is something that can be learned, and this under-30 chanteuse still has a lot of living to do. There were a couple of glimmers even on this 2001 release, a little on “Blame It on My Youth” and most notably and not surprisingly on the Joni song. As a jazz singer with pop sensibilities, Monheit probably relates well to a jazzy pop stylist she’s followed since childhood, and perhaps that made it easier to inhabit a song she didn’t write. For a talent this rare and promising, it’s worth checking back occasionally to see if it’s all come together. She just released a Christmas album – if she can make any of those songs her own, it’s a breakthrough.

Spacious, spare, elegant, allowing singer and players to exhibit their virtuosity. The stereo mix is so good, even in a car, that the 5.1 mix disappointed somewhat in not showing us anything new. Experimentation and tricks would be totally inappropriate for this collection, but the vocal is strictly up front and center and would’ve benefited from some expansion and slight movement back, and the instrumental placement lacks the kind of clear separation that adds clarity.

Added Features
Not much. After getting only one photo per song on the screen, no videos, no artist insights, not even lyrics, you’re tempted by the promise of ROM content only to find it’s exactly the same. That’s no way to sell this stuff.

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