At once crisply assertive and lovingly sensual, vocalist Jane Monheit is the jazz equivalent of the young and charming grade school teacher you secretly nurtured a crush on. A sophisticated bombshell of a performer with a voice that is, like her appearance, voluptuous and flawlessly pretty, Monheit has garnered well-earned comparisons to such icons as Ella Fitzgerald and the goddess of vocal pop, Barbra Streisand. In that sense, her sixth studio album, Surrender, is, at first glance, not dissimilar from her past work. Recorded with her working combo including husband and drummer Rick Montalbano, Surrender is a ballads-heavy album that features a mix of jazz standards, reworked pop tunes, and several bossa nova numbers. What is different is the focus and presentation of Monheit. Rather than featuring her here simply as a singer fronting a jazz band, Surrender is a cinematic showcase, a Broadway-sized coming-out party that finds Monheit's voice framed against sweeping orchestration and glossy, Technicolor arrangements. This is Monheit the vocal diva, the superstar.
Kenny Clarke was a jazz drummer and an early innovator of the BeBop style of drumming. As the house drummer at Minton's Playhouse in the early 1940s, he participated in the after hours jams that led to the birth of modern jazz. He is credited with creating the modern role of the ride cymbal as the primary timekeeper. Before, drummers kept time on the snare drum ("digging coal", Clarke called it) with heavy support from the bass drum. With Clarke time was played on the cymbal and the bass and snare were used more for punctuation. For this, "every drummer" Ed Thigpen said, "owes him a debt of gratitude." Clarke was nicknamed "Klook" or "Klook-mop" for the style he innovated.
His follow-up to Blowin' Like Hell burns with a ferocious intensity, particularly for his groundbreaking work on chromatic harp and his ability to cover all styles with remarkable elan. Again, he wrote most of the songs, and "Pawnshop Bound," "Trying to Stretch My Money," and "With a Tear in My Eye" are real songs. Instrumentals like "Chasin' the Gator" feature Clarke with Alex Schultz on lead guitar.
His fourth CD from Alligator is his jazziest and bluesist recording to date. Clarke has written half of the compositions and put his own sound and style on those he did not write. Highlights include "The Boss" (inspired by saxophonist Willis Jackson) which is a fast jump that finds chromatic harp riffing along with a horn section – some interesting ideas. Other tunes are the Benny Moten tune "Moten Swing," "My Mind is Working Overtime," (a Latin-tinged tune written by Clarke), and "Letter from Home".