Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jane Monheit and the art of taking a chance on love

I saw a concert video of Jane Monheit for the first time. It was a 2004 performance at a jazz festival in Wales, of all places, released under the title Taking a Chance on Love and presumably meant as a tie-in with her album of the same name.

Monheit, in case you aren't aware of her, is a superlative singer who works in a range between jazz and old standards. I've never heard her do a single number (and I have four of her albums) that she failed to illuminate with vocal wizardry, intelligent coloration, and respect for the material she's performing. Even when she's at top volume, her voice doesn't go hard and glassy but retains a thrilling intimacy.

So I was a little taken aback to watch her do a couple of sets. If I had just listened to this concert with the picture dark, the effect would have been pretty much the same as on her albums. But someone apparently coached her into "projecting" with a lot of Broadway-ish mannerisms: her hands fluttering like a pupeteer, facial expressions ranging from A to ZZZ, roaming the stage, exhibitionistically "appreciating" the contributions of her band members, &c.

At moments I thought she was channeling Liza Minelli (although Monheit is a far superior artist).

Part of the trouble is down to the nature of videotaped concerts. Like actors, vocalists must make their gestures larger than life so that they register even on audience members far from the stage. But the camera gets in close -- in this video, often too close, I thought. Must we see tight head shots? What do they add to our enjoyment? Directors these days believe they have to "contribute" by constantly cutting from one camera angle to another, and unless you do close-ups, sometimes extreme close-ups, you soon run out of different viewpoints. You might want an ECU of a pianist's hands on the keyboard or a guitarist's on the frets, but need we count Jane Monheit's eyelashes?

I'd love to see and hear her in a small club setting, where I'll bet she knocks off the histrionics and does what she does best. And that's plenty.

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