Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

Catching Up
Reviews by Rob Lester

As 2023 was ready to leave the stage and 2024 waited in the wings, there was still a large cast of musical characters I hadn't yet given the spotlight to in this column. So, the turning of the year is my cue to get to some things longer on the To-Be-Listened-To List. Here are three performers–one from Singapore, one born in Switzerland, and one from Japan–all finding their way to the Great American Songbook, each singing something written by Rodgers & Hart. And, instrumentally, a set of previously unreleased 1964 tracks by pianist Bill Evans has one of their gems, too.

Jazznote Records
CD | Digital

There's something quite endearing and genuinely gentlemanly about Jeremy Monteiro's vocalizing. The long-established and prolific pianist, who hails from Singapore, has more than 40 albums in his discography, but now he has released the first set on which he sings on all the tracks. The ten choices are mostly sentimental romantic standards such as the sweet "Candy" and the smile-urging "Smile." Rodgers & Hart's classic "My Romance" is the sole Broadway-born number. Taken at an unrushed tender tempo, it floats along agreeably.

While phrasing can sometimes feel tip-toeingly tentative, vulnerability, an appealing sincerity, and warmth of spirit radiate to provide some compensation on Jeremy Monteiro Sings. There are mood-enhancing pluses, too, with varying featured instruments (harmonica, guitar, sax, and the luxurious sounds of strings). And, of course, there's his solid jazz piano work as his own accompanist (comfort zone territory).

Fondness and respect for the material come through. Diction is admirably attentive. The singing of some notes can be carefully crisp and clipped, while longer notes can disconcertingly trail off, losing rather than maintaining strength. The one original piece, "Josefina," is a heartfelt ode to his wife of more than 40 years and the affection is palpable; any sense of self-consciousness disappears. It's a highlight of this harvest of musical honey.

Turtle Bay Records
CD | Digital | Vinyl

To say that the vocals and piano accompaniment on Two at the Most are understated is an understatement in itself. There's no high drama here. Tasteful and restrained, the renditions of the ten old standards might seem at a first and casual hearing to be so sweetly gossamer as to put anesthesia in the potentially intense emotions. The soothingly pretty voice of Swiss-born/former Paris resident/New York City transplant Tatiana Eva-Marie and the gentle keyboarding of Jeremy Corren may mute the melancholy or ration the rhapsodizing, but those feelings are subtly present, not merely referenced. Still, there's quite the paucity of self-pity in "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" and its report of spending all that time "crying my heart out."

Bliss comes through prominently in the reverie of Rodgers & Hart's "You Are Too Beautiful." The singer relinquishes the mic to Mark Buchan, a friend with an unassuming modest manner, who does two pleasant solo numbers: "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and the early Jerome Kern melody "They Didn't Believe Me" (mistakenly listed as "They'll Never Believe Me," also a line in the Herbert Reynolds lyric). While the consistently calm approach might risk making happy, sad, and bittersweet songs sound like they're set at similar climate controls, the pulled-back M.O. can come off as sobered reflections.

Jeremy Corren's graceful accompaniment makes the relaxing musical hammock sway charmingly. I would have loved to have longer mid-song solos from him. Two at the Most is most successful with its balm-like tracks that project an idyllic romantic mindset, such as "Penthouse Serenade" and an especially cozy "Fly Me to the Moon." Although the recording comes with a booklet with detailed anecdotes of the three performers' nights on the town making music and making merry, nowhere in those 11 pages are the songs themselves discussed and the songwriters are not credited anywhere in the packaging.

Although it came out this year, Two at the Most was recorded in June of 2021, the same year as Tatiana Eva-Marie's delightful release (and Turtle Bay Records' first offering) I Double Dare You, with bandleader/pianist Terry Waldo, which has more variety and spunk. She is the kind of singer whose unstrained mellifluous tone can make you smile whether she's crooning of serenity or sorrow.

Nana Notes Records
CD | Digital

On a seven-track release, Tokyo-born singer Yuka Mito offers variety. Her accent is very present, but she's fluent with the language of jazz. Love in the City includes five oldies and two originals: the cheery rhyme-free title ode to New York and "Memory of Father," which has a dignified melody, its lyric sung in Japanese (English translation provided on a paper insert). She impressively soars, scats and sashays her way through some mega-energized percolating charts ("I Got Rhythm" and "Four Brothers"), finds mid-tempo sizzle, and settles seriously into elegant balladry with Rodgers & Hart's immortal "My Funny Valentine." Yuka Mito's voice is supple, with strength, as she navigates some tricky passages. (The melody of "Love Me or Leave Me" is famously full of hills and valleys.)

The musicians on the set feature the same trio she had for an earlier collection released a decade ago called Time After Time. They are a major attraction, providing both engine and support, making one want to hear them go on and on. Allen Farnham is the pianist, arranger and music director. He is joined by bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tim Horner, with Vincent Herring guesting on saxophone for "I Got Rhythm." Some listings for this collection indicate a release with three additional tracks not on the version submitted for review.

Even if you don't madly love everything in Love in the City, there is plenty to like in its efforts to entertain.

Elemental Music
CD | Digital | Vinyl

Although the much-lauded jazz pianist Bill Evans passed away back in 1980, fans old and new are lucky that recordings of performances have continued to be discovered and released in excellent sound. Tales: Live in Copenhagen (1964) adds another to the vast oeuvre. With one exception among the 11 treats, the trio on Tales' tracks consists of the master of the keyboard teamed with bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Larry Bunker. Each man is heard in satisfying solo work and the interplay is exciting to behold. A booklet with photos and extensive liner notes illuminates history and provides perspective, including remembrances culled from a recent interview with the bassist.

We're swimming in familiar musical waters. Each of four songs is offered in two different versions here and everything except Rodgers & Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" has shown up elsewhere in the Evans discography, although not necessarily with Israels and Bunker. The repertoire includes two standbys that were on the pianist's debut album as solo versions: Evans' own composition, "Waltz for Debby," dedicated to his young niece; and "Five," his creation based on the chord changes of the Gershwin melody "I Got Rhythm." Whether cerebral or celebrational, the moods presented are engaging and the playing is artful (as expected). I find the two treatments of the ballad "My Foolish Heart" to be the most magnetic; emotionally compelling with laser beam focus and tension, the song is served so well, even absent the cautionary lyric. The bonus track is a souvenir from a 1969 set with the pianist joined by bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell for a potent seven minutes' worth of "'Round Midnight," the longest selection here.

And the legacy keeps growing.