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Published: Sunday, 1/20/2008

Concert review: Songstress Monheit brings out the sizzle in Toledo Pops

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

New York songstress extraordinaire Jane Monheit brought her band and her show to town for the third Toledo Symphony Pops Concert last night.

Between her warm, rich voice and the upbeat stylings of her band - backed by the Toledo Symphony and Chelsea Tipton II - it was the best imaginable antidote to winter weather. Well, short of flying to the tropics.

Even though it's hard to think of the Stranahan Theater as intimate, something about the way Monheit connected with the large audience made it seem more like a cabaret or a club, her typical venue.

With a voice like hers - pure, yet colored with a rainbow of timbres; powerful, yet wielded with ladylike restraint, and flexible - Monheit can and did sell songs from across the musical spectrum.

Her program was boldly eclectic - between the opening fantasy of "Pure Imagination," and her closer, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Monheit sampled a broad vocal terrain.

From her latest album were a delicious remake of Henry Mancini's "Moon River," and several compelling songs in Portuguese, which Monheit negotiates with ease. One addition might have enhanced our enjoyment of those numbers, "Caminhos Cruzados," and "Comecar De Novo": a brief explanation of the story behind each song.

Included on the program were several numbers Monheit promised would be on her newest recording, due out later in 2008. "All or Nothing At All" and "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" showed off the singer's scat skills and gave her regular band a chance to shine.

Pianist and arranger Michael Kanan clearly understood and appreciates Monheit's savvy if understated delivery style.

Bassist Orlando Le Fleming, guitarist Miles Okazaki, and tenor sax player Ari Ambrose showed off their individual chops with impressive solos in numbers featuring only the singer and her band. Percussionist - and spouse - Rick Montalbano played a minimalist role, backing Monheit but avoiding solos.

A highlight from an earlier album was Monheit's styling of the Judy Collins classic "Since You've Asked" in a splendid full-orchestra arrangement by Vince Mendoza. After giving her personal kudos to jazz great Jon Hendrix, who was in the audience, she tore into "Twisted," giving it a sizzling performance.

And, after the last notes, Monheit, who is six months pregnant, rubbed her belly and said, "I really do have two heads right now."

Tipton and the symphony provided a wonderful warm-up in the first half, picking up on Monheit's preference for great American songs with music by Cole Porter, Thelonious Monk - a stellar arrangement of "Round Midnight" - and a Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn medley.

If the audience seemed reluctant to brave the cold, cold night, who could blame them for hanging around, particularly when Monheit came back for an encore, a Gershwin classic, "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com.



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