Found and Lost

Terence Blanchard Revisits Jimmy McHugh

So has Dianne Reeves, but she's more self-conscious about it. With Wilson, it isn't about the dress or the hair, though she attends to both, but the way she takes the microphone and moves in on the material. With Reeves, sometimes you get the feeling she thinks she's Judy Garland. On her new album, a tribute to Vaughan entitled The Calling (Blue Note), she poses as a grande dame on the cover, the foreground littered with roses, and sings amid an ocean of strings and woodwinds. At her best ("Embraceable You," "Lullaby of Birdland," "I Hadn't Anyone Till You," "Send in the Clowns"), she is thoroughly persuasive, but she too often lacks the personality to keep the orchestra in its place. The same is true in the confined straits of the Blanchard album. On "I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me," she nails Vaughan's cello range, but her embellishments are hapless as she loses sight of the song and the beat. She is in much better form on "Can't Get Out of This Mood," a McHugh peak (with a Frank Loesser lyric), swinging nicely on her first chorus and with abandon on her second.

Jane Monheit's two entries place her in the Russ Columbo tradition: Apparently she can sing nothing that isn't set at a very slow tempo, and even then is too conscious of vocal production to give the song much due. Her pedestrian new CD, Come Dream With Me (Warlock), raises the question of what she is doing in a jazz context at all. She has the sort of large glowing voice, particularly bright in its upper reaches, that 30 years ago would have drawn her to "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" and 10 years ago to Cats. It is neither expressive nor appealing enough to justify her crawling pace, and her idea of jazz filigree is melismatic phrase endings, occasionally suggesting the moaning excesses of Morgana King.

At the Blanchard gig, she looked, at 23, appealing and sure, but out of her element. On "Too Young to Go Steady," she sold the melody with dynamics and feeling while overdramatizing the banal lyric; the absence of wit was more problematic on the very witty "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," where the modestly cantering rhythm unmoored her, as it does on the record. Monheit has a reserve of evident talent, but is being pushed into an area obviously unsuitable for her. The implication is that in jazz the bar is low enough for a newcomer to find an immediate niche; judging from the hype, that may be true for now. The marketing of her CD is disingenuous to say the least. An all-star sextet is promised on the jacket, but never actually appears; the soloists play on only selected tracks, never together, on what is basically a pop session with strings. The booklet features strange upscale photos of Monheit wearing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm ringlets, lurking around a corner and humping a wall, along with notes by hack producer Joel Dorn that are almost entirely about hack producer Joel Dorn, while noting that the selections by Joni Mitchell and Bread prove she is not "just a jazz singer." She is better on Blanchard's album, but considering the vocalists he might have signed, he could have done better. So could Jimmy McHugh.

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