New Music: Jane Monheit, Jazz Is Dead

Album covers for new Jane Monheit and Jazz Is Dead releases

When vocal and piano powerhouse Diana Krall burst on to the jazz scene in the mid-nineties, the form was getting a bit long in the teeth. Most of the legends had passed on or exceeded their peak as far as female vocalists go. In walked Diana: Great vocal and piano chops, a reverence for the elders, especially Carmen McRae and Ray Brown, and she was photogenic to boot. Never ones to miss a marketing hook, labels and promoters were stepping over themselves to sign like-minded acts. But music, as we know, can be both random and Darwinian. Few of the people who blasted on to that scene had the staying power.

One noteworthy exception: Jane Monheit. She is decidedly different from Krall in nearly every way. Krall is often coated with a production sheen to mask her edge, Monheit, conversely, is silky and smooth and is endowed with a pop sensibility that runs deep. She makes no bones about it. But she’s cool in a low tech setting, too.

Krall notwithstanding, most labels are no longer taking chances on jazz singers, even ones with track records. So “Come What May” has been issued under a small auspice than prior outings for Monheit (at one point she had a nice contract with Columbia Records) there are no surprises in the choices of standards or arrangements. The delivery is as crisp and earnest as she’s ever been.

Since the release of the first “Jazz Is Dead” (image below) series last year, I have been uncertain what to call these. Are they a group? Is it a collection? The answer is actually “label”. I’ve come to think it’s best to call it a “Movement.” The concept is simple enough: A core band with a mission of trip -hop and funk jazz resuscitation-teamed with a fusion legend. The duo is always Ali Shaheed-Muhammed and Adrian Younge. Each release brings in a fusion Gunslinger.

This time around, Gary Bartz is in the driver’s seat. “Jazz Is Dead 6.” Bartz will be known to most jazz lovers as a great improviser and soulful player of the Alto sax. Great form and jamming all about!

Finally, as I write these thoughts about new music, we are about midway through our spring member drive. If you listen for the music and want to keep it alive beyond just the jukebox approach, I hope you will contribute what you can. Thanks from your friends in music!

Kevin O’Connor is Jazz88’s music director and afternoon host.  He also hosts an hour of new releases on Fridays at noon.

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