Jazz singer Jane Monheit’s musical soft spot dates back 60-plus years. So fans do not expect her to break new ground at her shows. But boy, she can still surprise, as she did Sunday night in The Egg’s Swyer Theater when she returned for an encore to sing “My Funny Valentine” alone with her piano player.
Already a sad song, Monheit brought it to an emotional height with impeccable control, using gaps of silence between phrases to intensify the moment.
The first surprise of the night came earlier, when she interpreted The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers,” pulling from that song pieces of sorrow that doubtful Lennon-McCartney even knew existed. She followed with “The Long and Winding Road.” This was closer to the original, but a slower, bluesy thread made the song her own.
“It took me a long time to cover one of their songs,” she told a full house. “Everyone does Beatles songs, so I had to wait until it really meant something to me.” In this case, she waited nine records to put them on her most recent, “The Heart of the Matter.”
She talked about Lorenz Hart’s lyrics, calling them deeper than they appear, with “back stories” filled with “bitterness. . . . He was a dark man,” she half-joked, perhaps revealing a bit about her own interpreting of romantic classics.
She followed with the classic “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” yanking out, once again, the most somber and bluest elements of the song. This might have been the best song of the night until the encore.
After Neil Miner’s acoustic bass solo, Monheit said, “I love bass solos on ballads; it’s like a male voice responding.”
Monheit told us she was in the process of developing a Judy Garland tribute. “She was my first hero,” she said, before playing the jazzy “Waiting Somewhere for Me.”
Guitarist and opening act Frank Vignola came on stage to play a song he and Monheit recorded together, “Stardust.” “My grandfather has collected more than 1,000 versions of this song,” she told us before the song. “I want to be one of his versions.” She is now, but it wasn’t the standout interpretation we know she is capable of.
The full band returned to swing on “Honey Suckle Rose.” Vignola played a great solo and the band cooked a bit extra, playing their loudest and loosest of the night.
Monheit was backed by her longtime trio of Miner, Michael Kanan on piano and husband Rick Montalbano on drums.
Monheit is a regular in the Capital Region, and, as she told us, has “played the Egg a million times. I love it here.” And that didn’t stop her from wowing the same audience with the same band with the same songs.
Vignola opened the show with his longtime sideman Vinny Raniolo. For those in the room who had never seen them — judging from the audience’s excitement, the duo was new to most of them — it’s a great, even jaw-dropping show. These two play acoustic guitar faster and cleaner than any pair or individuals I have seen. They are frequent players in the region, and I have seen them numerous times, but it’s always a marvel to watch them.
Their setlist was typical: “Carolina in the Morning,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” “Gypsy Mania” and “Killing Me Softly.” They played gently and beautifully, and they also played with blazing speed, articulating every note and chord with each other and against each other. They interpreted “Swan Lake” — mimicking the dance and music. Their shtick, including the jokes, is basically the same as previous shows, but still funny.
A great night for traditional, song-based swinging jazz.
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