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.
A few years after the release of her fourth album with Verve, a gospel-themed set of reinterpretations titled Fellowship, Lizz Wright signed to the Concord label with an eye toward concentrating on original material. The vocalist made a connection with veteran multi-instrumentalist and producer Larry Klein and recorded Freedom & Surrender with a stable backing band that included drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, percussionist Pete Korpela, bassist Dan Lutz, guitarist Dean Parks, and keyboardists Pete Kuzma and Billy Childs. For most listeners, the change of label and mostly new set of supporting musicians will seem transparent. Like Wright's previous albums, Freedom & Surrender is graceful and exacting, yet those qualities come across in a fashion that does not seem deliberate – remarkable for material that draws from folk, blues, jazz, soul, and gospel and often fuses two or more of those genres. Longtime collaborator Toshi Reagon contributes only two songs, "Freedom" and "Surrender," but they neatly begin and end the album in spirited and assured form. David Batteau and Jesse Harris separately collaborated with Wright and sometimes Klein on the writing of seven selections.