Sunday, May 31, 2015

David Benoit and Jane Monheit: 2 in Love

Concord Records
By Derrick Bang
Buy CD: 2 in Love

Longtime jazz pianist David Benoit has worked with numerous vocalists and instrumentalists over the years, but his albums have tended to be primarily solo affairs with guests on only a few tracks. This one’s an exception: a true collaboration that  blends Benoit’s diverse keyboard work with the sultry tones of swing-hued chanteuse Jane Monheit. The result is thoroughly engaging: a warm give-and-take between two pros who obviously had a lot of fun recording these 10 tracks.

Things get off to a lively start with the bossa nova-inflected “Barcelona Nights,” a rocker that boasts a strong percussive background until a bridge that slows and features Monheit’s lyrical vocal against Pat Kelley’s tasty guitar work. Benoit follows the interlude with a brief but lively piano solo, demonstrating anew that he’s too frequently (and unfairly) tagged as “merely a smooth jazz pianist.”

The mid-tempo “Too in Love” finds Monheit in a similarly saucy samba vibe, with the tune’s romantic lyrics again nicely augmented by Lauren Kosty’s percussive backdrop and Benoit’s driving piano chops.

Most of the remaining tunes are slower, gentler ballads such as “Fly Away,” which builds to melodramatic crescendos that allow Monheit (in her own words) to “wail ... [on] a style of music that I don’t often get to sing.” A quiet piano prologue from Benoit opens the sweet, waltz-timed “Dragonfly,” which blends backing piano with violin (Michelle Suh) and cello (Cathy Biagini); the latter two also add pleasing touches to the haunting, melancholy “Something’s Gotta Give,” originally written by Benoit and lyricist Mark Winkler for the stage musical Don’t Count Me Out, a depiction of the final weeks of the doomed Marilyn Monroe’s life.

Benoit released an earlier version of that latter tune on his 2005 album Orchestral Stories; he similarly “freshens up” another of his tunes — the much older “Life Is Like a Samba,” from his 1977 album Heavier Than Yesterday — and, re-christened with a new title (“Love in Hyde Park”), turns it into a delightful instrumental. The album concludes with a second instrumental: Benoit’s soulful solo piano fusion of Leonard Bernstein’s love theme from Candide and Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” from A Little Night Music.

Aside from the individuals already mentioned, the album’s drumming chores are divided between Clayton Cameron and Jamey Tate, while John Clayton and Davis Hughes trade off on bass.

At not quite 40 minutes, 2 in Love is short but definitely sweet: a nice interlude for late-night snuggling.

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