Janet Planet

March 13, 2013

“Janet Planet Sings”

The Metropolitan Room  –  March 11-16

Janet PlanetRodgers & Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk” is an apt opening song for Janet Planet’s latest engagement at the Metropolitan Room. If there is another singer who exudes such unpretentious playfulness and joy with music and lyrics, I’m not sure who it might be. Add to that her arms and fingers that are as expressive as a dancer’s, her high-wattage smile (not often seen in the meditative looks of her photos), and her ageless energy and looks (she’s been singing for thirty years but under blessed cabaret lighting doesn’t look a day over thirty) and you have the complete package, gift-wrapped.

The first couple of songs—the second being a humorous, understated “Dear John” (Blossom Dearie)—find Planet comfortably in her jazz vein: soft and silky vocal lines, a bit of scatting, and creative bending of phrases. Her trio of musicians (guitar, bass and drums) almost overwhelms her voice. However, it soon becomes clear she is “saving it up” and has much more in her arsenal. “Get Out of Town/Get Lost” (Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town” with a vocalese by Meredith D’Ambrosio) starts as a doleful monologue with guitar before she snaps to and sends her lover out the door with sassy verve.

One of her recent recordings interprets the songs of Bob Dylan, and for her, his “I Shall Be Released” is the lament of a victim of abuse, not the declaration of a man in prison. After a mini-lecture about subtext, she delivers the goods in song, conveying ache, then defiance, and finally finding her own release, gospel-style, with the closing cries of “Any day now, any day now.” Late in the show, Planet and her band dazzle on Dylan’s rock-tinged “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” where Planet shows some snarky sarcasm. Dylan as jazz seems to work in Planet’s hands.

Other delights include a foot-tapping rendition of “Rhode Island Is Famous for You” (Dietz & Schwartz); Planet’s winking intelligence and crisp delivery ensure laughs on all the bad puns. Chick Corea’s “Highwire” is, indeed, like a thrilling circus act. On this night, as she headed toward the scat solo, she moved close to her bass player and said, “Are we ready for this?” With swoops and jumps and notes high and low, the two wowed the crowd. Toward the end of the solo, Planet burst out laughing. Lesson? Be expert in your musicianship, but never be afraid to let go and have some fun.

Despite an intelligence that could be daunting to an audience, there is an honesty and accessibility to Planet that endears her to them. Her remarks are few, and usually about the songs themselves, but she delivers them as a favorite teacher might tutor her prized student. In this show, she offers only one story, but it’s a good one, about taking weeks to learn a Russian lullaby and then getting advice on song choice late one night at a bar in Siberia, on her way to the gig. To hear the story and then her rendition of the new song (in Russian, natch), is a highlight of the evening.

Planet’s song list ranges from the 1930s to current day, and crosses genres such as folk, pop, jazz, and bossa nova, but she embraces all of them; they never seem less than her own. My only suggestion is to perhaps find a closer other than “Here’s to Life” (Artie Butler, Phyllis Molinary). It is so over-performed now, and her version, while musically very good, doesn’t capture the emotional intensity that some of the older divas are able to invest it with.

Her band comes up aces: Tom Theabo on guitar, Dan Loomis on bass, and Ross Peterson on drums. Janet Planet is probably having as much fun now as when she began all those years ago; she is well worth a visit.


About the Author

Kevin Scott Hall performed in cabaret clubs for many years and recorded three CDs, including “New Light Dawning” in 1998, which received national airplay. He also worked at the legendary piano bar, Rose’s Turn, and has taught cabaret workshops and directed shows since 1995. Kevin earned his MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. He is an adjunct professor in the Theatre and English departments at City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. His novel, “Off the Charts!” was published in 2010, and his memoir, “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” (Wisdom Moon), in 2014. Kevin writes a monthly column and entertainment features for Edge Media Network, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and freelances for other publications.