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Jane Monheit: Taking a Chance on Love

Who will be the 21st-century flag-bearer for the Great American Songbook? As late as a year ago, I would have handed the mantle to Diana Krall or Dianne Reeves. Now, with the release of Taking a Chance on Love (Sony Classical), it’s time to acknowledge jazz-cabaret hybrid Jane Monheit’s rightful place at the head of the traditionalist pack.

That’s not to suggest anything inferior about Monheit’s three previous collections of standards or last year’s sublime Live at the Rainbow Room, all released on N-Coded. If you liken Monheit to a finely trained athlete (which, vocally, she is), the N-Coded discs were vigorous workouts done in preparation for the gold medal victory that is Taking a Chance on Love. Simultaneously echoing the purity of Jane Oliver, the dexterity of Keely Smith, the jazz smarts of Chris Connor and the cabaret pizzazz of Julie Wilson, Monheit takes a headlong dive into vintage Hollywood, showcasing that buttercream voice of hers in various settings as she caresses a dozen classics from MGM musicals of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Monheit demonstrates equal ease working with her touring quartet (pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Orlando Le Fleming, guitarist Miles Okazaki and drummer Rick Montalbano, who doubles as Monheit’s husband), a guest trio comprised of Geoffrey Keezer (piano) plus former recording mates Christian McBride (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) and variously configured orchestras, and has reached a level of vocal self-confidence and maturity that intimate duets with Kanan and guitarist Romero Lubambo prove stunningly assured.

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