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Listening Post: Jane Monheit’s tribute to Ella Fitzgerald’s, Pianist Bill Charlap finds hidden standard gems

Jane Monheit, “The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald” (Emerald City) Wait a minute. Hold the phone here. A Jane Monheit disc produced by trumpet player Nicholas Payton? In other words, a Broadway-sounding version of a jazz singer collaborating with a player/producer from New Orleans known for fat-toned blistering solos? There’s absolutely nothing whatsoever about Jane Monheit as a singer that resembles Ella Fitzgerald. But then except for the immortal “Songbook” records where Ella explored some of these tunes, there’s nothing really in the record that specifically pays tribute to Ella either. On the other hand, misnomer that it is, Payton, as both producer and fellow soloist, brings out the most grown-up and convincing Jane Monheit we’ve ever heard. He wanted to make “the quintessential Jane Monheit album” and he just may have. “Times have changed” says Payton. “Like it or not, romance doesn’t look the same as it did then, and what was sexy music in 1938 isn’t so sexy anymore...I wanted Jane to get into some real grown woman ish here and that she did.” Listen to what Monheit and Payton do on a mashup of “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Chelsea Bridge” (titled “Chelsea Mood”) and you won’t argue with this. Not for a second. Leave it to a player like Payton to find a Jane Monheit we’ve never heard before – a genuinely great singer. Three and a half stars. (Jeff Simon)

Bill Charlap, “Notes from New York” (Impulse). Once when trying to explain what he wanted in his group’s pianists, Miles Davis once said they had to have “that thing – you know, the way you TOUCH a piano.” No one in contemporary jazz, has “that thing” more conspicuously than Bill Charlap, At his most sensitive, Bill Charlap can make Bill Evans sound like a streetcorner thug. That’s why one of the great records of the past year was his collaboration with Tony Bennett on “Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern.” Charlap is often fabled for the degree to which this music is, almost literally, in his blood, as the son of Broadway Composer Moose Charlap (“Peter Pan” with that tune beloved by so many jazz musicians “Never-Neverland”) and singer Sandy Stewart. This is Charlap’s working trip with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (unrelated.) Charlap is a piano player’s piano player; he’s also, as the son of a composer and a singer, a musician’s musician. Except for “I’ll Remember April” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” the repertoire on “New York Notes” is full of the most obscure gems you’ve heard in a long while. Would you believe Vernon Duke’s “Not a Care in the World,” Harry Warren’s “There Is No Music,” and Thad Jones’ “Little Rascal on a Rock?” Compared to those, Harold Arlen’s “A Sleepin’ Bee” is almost as commonplace as “Lady Be Good.” When you hear his playing on Burton Lane’s sublime “Too Late Now,” you’re in some late-night jazz piano trio suburb of heaven. Three stars. (Jeff Simon)

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