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David Benoit Featuring Jane Monheit: 2 in Love

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When smooth-jazz pioneer David Benoit, whose dense piano style seems to have arrived at the curious intersection of Vince Guaraldi and Liberace, teams with Jane Monheit, still the plumiest of jazz singers, the proceedings can get a little overripe. Though Benoit’s arrangements are gorgeously atmospheric and Monheit, approaching the high-flown drama of Elaine Page, is in sublime voice, several of the 10 tracks here feel claustrophobic, like beautiful rooms overcrowded with heavy furniture.

Fortunately, much of the excess is mitigated by the superiority of the material. Almost all of it is new, composed by Benoit with help from two of the best jazz-informed singer-lyricists around, Mark Winkler and Lorraine Feather, plus strong next-generation voice Spencer Day.

Feather and Benoit’s fiery “Barcelona Nights” traces the arc of a romance from impassioned heights to post-breakup regrets. Winkler’s “Something’s Gotta Give” (not to be confused with the Johnny Mercer classic) captures the bruised, better-luck-next-time ache of failed amour, and the charming “The Songs We Sang” maps the fading relationship of a once-successful songwriting couple. Sweetest of all is the lilting, grab-every-moment anthem “This Dance.” Most theatrical is “Fly Away,” which, musically and thematically, bears an uncanny resemblance to Wicked‘s “Defying Gravity.”

Benoit inserts two instrumentals, and both are refreshingly sparer than the vocal tracks. “Love in Hyde Park” is a sparkling reworking of his “Moment in Hyde Park” off 1980’s Can You Imagine. A closing medley expertly blends the majesty of Leonard Bernstein’s “Love Theme From Candide” with the melancholic tenderness of Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.”

Originally Published