“Like a Complete Unknown”
Feinstein’s at Loews Regency – August 13, 14
With vocals that are clear and sultry, a tone as soft as fine cashmere and expressive with spontaneous jazz rhythms and accents, Janet Planet may be a complete unknown in New York City. This, however, is not due to any lack of talent. Many cabaret performers call themselves jazz singers but Janet Planet is the real deal. She hears the music and the timing and she adds her own jazz point of view with eloquent virtuosity and sensitivity.
Her opening song at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency was not a rousing belt and it wasn’t a catchy swing tune—at first. Instead, she delivered the vocalese “Get Lost,” by singer-songwriter Meredith d’Ambrosio, paraphrasing Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town.” With a rhythm trio behind her, Planet then picked up the pace and moved into the catchy and swinging “Get Out of Town.” With two versions of the same message, Planet revealed her tight connection to the songs’ intent and also the sound of the words, illustrated again later, with “I Like You, You’re Nice” by Blossom Dearie and Linda Alpert. Here, Planet relished in the distinctive warmth of the words, “cup of Costa Rican coffee.”
This show, she said, was about words. She devoted the program largely to Cole Porter, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Blossom Dearie, and Bob Dylan. After naming Dylan, Planet wryly wondered whether she’d heard the audience groan. No, they were not groaning, not those who appreciated the poetic quality of Dylan’s songs. Planet’s intriguing Dylan interpretations included her rendition of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” an effective arrangement with Ross Pederson’s drums providing an undercurrent sound of a traveling train. After Planet’s gripping gospel somberness to Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” she mentioned she was communicating it from the point of view of any man or woman who has been abused.
She has a sustained vocal line that can melt into a single silky fluent sound with her musicians, Tom Theabo on guitar and Daniel Loomis on bass, with the aforementioned Ross Pederson’s soft drum. Singing “My One and Only Love,” starting with only Loomis’s bass accompaniment before the rest of the trio came in, Planet’s long notes dipped and faded, almost disappearing. Yet, with microphone savvy, she can also choose to vocally dominate the song, articulately exploring and interpreting the shadows as well as sliding along the surface of a song.
Her song list was eclectic, including a speeding “Gary, Indiana” (Meredith Willson) with a twist: no lips. That’s right, she sang part of the song without moving her lips. Why? Why not? Any show benefits from a quick shot of humor. Other favorites were Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz’s jaunty “Rhode Island Is Famous for You” and “Hey, John,” a Blossom Dearie tune with Jim Council lyrics written for one of Dearie’s fans, John Lennon.
Jazz singers are inevitably drawn to Brazilian rhythms, and eventually they are tempted to sing in Portuguese, as did Planet, delivering the original lyrics of “O Pato” (“The Duck”), by Jayme Silva & Neuza Teixeira. She chose to sing Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Waters of March” in English, nuanced with diverse accents and sophisticated rhythms. Another treat was a special guest, jazz guitarist Gene Bertoncini, who accompanied Planet in an affecting “The Shining Sea” (Johnny Mandel and Peggy Lee).
Now a word about her name. Unlike her music, the name is not exactly the real deal. It was a nickname when she was a teenager, and eventually “Janet Planet” became her business name and her domain name, JanetPlanet.com. When another Janet, the one named Jackson, later wanted it for her own domain name, Jackson had to settle for JanetPlanet.net. So when you decide to check on what the jazz singer is up to now—and you will—go to the source, JanetPlanet.com. She’s the one who understands the music she is performing, and the one with the voice and imagination to make it her own.