For her recent six-night Village Vanguard stay, 22-year-old singer Jane Monheit arrived onstage like Venus in a shell. Or like a creature rising from a wave. Apparently, mermaids intrigue her, and she’s appropriated the look. She wears a long, black fishtail dress. Her dark, wavy hair falls to her waist. She scatters sparkles on her face—with its expressive eyes and full lips—and on her graceful arms so that she seems to shimmer. Or, if it’s a torch song she’s delivering, she seems awash in crystalline tears.
But physical beauty isn’t everything. The voice is what counts—and the understanding of lyrics. Not only does Monheit have a pure and extraordinarily supple instrument, she knows exactly what she wants to do with it—her improvisations are flawless. The runner-up to Teri Thornton in the 1998 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, she has already mastered the jazz singer’s knack for riffing on melody and the cabaret singer’s know-how with words.
To sing standards two and three times older than she is, she’s listened very astutely to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, June Christy, and Carmen Macrae, and she already qualifies as their peer. Indeed, since Vaughan and Fitzgerald always intuited the drama in melodies but rarely in lyrics, Monheit may be said to have surpassed her idols in her ability to dive under the surface of a song. Throughout, she fronted musicians Grady Tate, Frank Wess, Jay Leonhart, and Bruce Barth (who provided mellow support) as if she’d been around as long as they have.
At the Vanguard she sang numbers from her first CD, Never Never Land (N-Coded), and threw in a few extras. Mentioning in her sultry-little-girl way that she has an affinity for ballads, she proved it with easy but never glib renditions of two torchy numbers—the Lou Carter-Herb Ellis “Detour Ahead” and the Ned Washington-Victor Young “My Foolish Heart”—and an especially doleful “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” that would have gratified Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster no end. On opening night she crooned, to guest artist Bucky Pizzarelli’s accompaniment, the treacherous Fran Landesman- Tommy Wolf “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” as if she were tossing off her ABCs. In Annie Ross and Wardell Gray’s “Twisted,” done with amusing languor, she trilled, “I knew I was a genius.” She’s got that right. —David Finkle
Bawdy juvenile antics, odes to violence, and petitions to altered states of consciousness hung thick as herbal smog in the Continental Airlines Arena Saturday night. Between the pyrotechnics, riveting movie clips, and nearly perfect sound system, “Up In Smoke” was as adeptly orchestrated as Dr. Dre’s crisp metaphysical tracks. Dare I call it family entertainment? Cuz e’rybody —from the cannabis connoisseurs to new-to-this suburban teens to the old school (that would be me, old school being “21 and over”)—was spent after the relentless multiclimactic ride to the left side. Blackgirls squirmed a little when a call for the ‘hos rang out; whiteboys wriggled in their seats during the “white jokes.” Whitegirls probably laughed least, but all cliques eventually aligned themselves with the boyz in the hood.
The once revolutionary Ice Cube and his beefy Wesside partners spoke now in cross-marketing tongues (“Who saw Next Friday?”), and given the extracurricular activities going on up in that piece, adroitly left “Fuck Tha Police” off the lineup too. At first, Eminem’s matricidal rants shook me (especially given that his own babymamma just slashed her wrists), but when he sang his lost-boy blues over a spooked-out ’80s-metal guitar solo that caressed a throbbin’ hip-hop track, I bore witness to a holy miscegenation that begat a more honest future. And even if he committed the ultimate sin of fallin’ off the beat a few times, the talented Slim Shady redeemed himself by rippin’ the shit outta “Forgot About Dre.”
Of course a gangsta party is incomplete without pimpin’ ‘hos, part of the House of Chronic’s repertoire for years. From the vulgar vignette “You Can’t Make a Ho a Housewife” to Nate Dogg fakeass-Donell-Jones-crooning “Ain’t No Fun” to Chronic 2001‘s “Fuck You,” Snoop and Dre resumed their place in my heart as that sly nigga that keep gettin’ back in cuz he be layin’ it down . . . well. As usual, Dre and Snoop had me throwing in my save-the-girls towel and properly shaking my ass, while they droned on about nut sacks on tonsils and other things “sticky-icky-icky.”
Finally, the 64 screeched to a slowdown with a drawn-out remix of “Let Me Ride” and a boring and self-indulgent N.W.A. tribute. But I could never be mad at Dre for long—the mighty, mighty D-R remains the most artful plastic surgeon of hip-hop’s ever changing face. —Angela Bronner