When Jane Monheit made her bow more than seven years ago, she was lavished with attention as much for her novelty — the arrival of a 22-year-old with a penchant for straight-ahead jazz vocalizing isn’t an everyday occurrence — as for her talents. Her chops were tops, but there was a nagging feeling that she was working her way through the songbook phonetically without connecting with the underlying layers. But Saturday at Lincoln Center, Monheit showed she has developed a dazzling emotional fluency — in ample supply on her upcoming Concord album “Surrender.”
The “Surrender” selections made up the bulk of Monheit’s convivial 75-minute set, which closed Lincoln Center’s four-week American Songbook 2007 series.
The perf was less reliant on comfort-food standards than might’ve been expected, with nods to the smoother side of soul — particularly on an ebullient rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” — and, more significantly, to the rhythms of Brazil. Monheit’s naturally smoky voice is well suited to those surroundings, and she proved adept in navigating bossa nova’s serpentine curves on several of the program’s offerings.
Best of the bunch was probably Jobim’s “Caminhos Cruzados,” which also received a boost in the form of a teasing saxophone solo from Ari Ambrose. The reedman asserted himself now and again during the perf, but Monheit palavered more often with the supple rhythm section of bassist Orlando Le Fleming and her drummer husband Nick Montalbano, producing a dialogue that warmed the room as thoroughly as a roaring fireplace might have.
Jane Monheit will perform at Gotham’s Cafe Carlyle March 6-31 and at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles June 5-10.