Monheit, Vignola team up for delightful tribute to Gershwin

The lush merge of Jane Monheit’s sultry vocals and Frank Vignola’s mastery guitar set against George
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The lush merge of Jane Monheit’s sultry vocals and Frank Vignola’s mastery guitar set against George Gershwin’s songs made for a soothing night of classic music at the Egg’s Hart Theater Saturday. They never raised the roof, or even attempted. Instead, they performed the songs with class and skill in line with the man they were honoring.

The soft spoken quintet opened the show with a gentle version of “Strike Up the Band,” followed by the gentler “Summertime.” The subtle Vignola played his acoustic solos with precision.

Violinist Aaron Weinstein played his first of many tasteful solos here. All night there was no room for error with the silent, still attention of the audience.

Drummer Rich Zukor took three solo rounds with brushes that flowed well together during the uptempo “I Got Rhythm.”

Next Monheit came swinging on stage with “They Can’t Take that Away From Me.” Gershwin’s tunes swing on their own, and Monheit knew how to sit inside the song with her full-toned voice.

Monheit displayed her other strength — ballads — during “Embraceable You.” Patient and appropriately sentimental, Monheit’s airy, sensual exhales preceded the long, flowing notes, her lightness floating slightly above the quintet’s mellow, disciplined sound.

She rubbed her swollen belly often at the beginning, referring to her “munchkin” inside. “I thought he would move around with all this swinging,” she said, surprised that he wasn’t.

They ripped through a fast-paced “Fascinating Rhythm,” and then a beautifully serene “How Long Has This Been Going On.”

When Monheit wasn’t on stage, or when she wasn’t singing, the quintet had this ability to create a private, non-public setting, as if they weren’t performing, but simply playing among themselves. That alone made the night worth it.

During “Somebody Loves Me,” some blues riffs seeped out of Vignola’s usual jazzy style.

Sitting through the show, it was hard to imagine Vignola playing anything but this kind of music.

Yet the versatile Vignola has a resume that includes playing with Madonna, Ringo Starr, Queen, Lionel Hampton and Wynton Marsalis, to name a few.

They stepped out for an Irving Berlin song, “Cheek to Cheek,” which Vignola said was one of Gershwin’s influences. Monheit’s voice was full and soaring, and she grew aggressive, even physical, here. But at no point, unfortunately, did she get explosive, nor did she step out with her scat skills.

Still, many can listen to her sing however she wants to, particularly Gershwin tunes like “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “The Man I Love.” You can say the same of Vignola’s performance.

Strip away everything but his rhythms, or everything but her vocals, and you’d still be entertained. In context of the band, the sound was a pleasure to hear.

“George Gershwin’s music is great for jazz musicians: it has great melodies, it swings, and has a lot of room for improvisation,” said Vignola. “We’re having a ball playing this.”

The show was part of the George Gershwin “New York Living Legacy” project, which will continue next Saturday night at The Egg with a performance by The Marcus Roberts Trio with the Albany Symphony Orchestra.

Categories: Life and Arts

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