One of the great perks of writing for the Syncopated Times is that people are forever sending you records and imploring you to review them. It’s a great way to find out about bands, composers, crooners, and instrumentalists you would likely never have come across otherwise. Ever heard of Jeremy Monteiro, for instance? No, me neither—but apparently he’s important enough to have been crowned Singapore’s “King of Swing.”
It’s not a title bestowed lightly: this renowned pianist, educator and recording artist has been in the biz for 46 years, releasing an average of one album per year. And it’s clearly not a case of quantity over quality as Monteiro’s previous outing—the 2022 release Jazz Blues Brothers, with Alberto Marsico—got to number 12 on the JazzWeek chart. Sounds like it’s about time we all got onboard this hype train.
Jeremy Monteiro Sings is the Southeast Asian swing legend’s forty-seventh record—but the first on which he sings from beginning to end. Vocalists with whom he has previously collaborated include Jon Hendricks, Bobby McFerrin, Nancy Kelly, Cassandra Wilson, and Carmen Bradford, which might explain his reluctance to have a go. Still, it’s about time, I say, because his rich vocal tone is a superb complement to his very capable playing.
Monteiro’s mellow baritone nestles between Ben Poh’s bass and his own twinkling piano, as sweet and warming as hot cocoa on a cold winter’s evening. His piano is a masterclass in generous comping—generous not in the sense that there’s a lot of it, but in the sense that he leaves plenty of room for his bandmates to shine. These players include Jens Bunge on harmonica, who blows up a storm on “Moon River.” (Me being a big fan of the pioneering harpist Max Geldray, it’s always a rare treat to hear the instrument in such capable hands.) Of course, the King takes his own turn in the limelight—his mid-track solo on “Let’s Fall in Love” is particularly enjoyable, rippling from the uppermost registers down to the very bottom end, where the notes roll together in a thunderous rumble.
The record features a tight ten tracks, including nine much-loved standards and one original. It doesn’t win any awards for refloating any long-lost deep cuts, with oft-covered numbers like “Smile” and “You’ll Never Know” making up most of the tracklist—but they’re versions worth hearing, all the same. “Blame it on My Youth” is a particularly touching track, beginning with a piano solo and building gradually into a symphonic affair. Monteiro’s vocal dips into the bass register, tapping into those frequencies which Barry White and Johnny Cash most famously put to spine-tingling use.
The one original, “Josefina,” is a gorgeous torch song with sweeping strings (arranged by Michael Veerapen and led by Han Oh), penned in honor of Monteiro’s wife of 40 years. Tony Lakatos’s sinuous sax contribution and Hong Chanutr Techatananan’s featherlight drums help make it a beautiful love song for the ages—and the eponymous Josefina the envy of every woman she knows, I’d imagine.
The production values are nothing short of top notch—as one might expect, after four decades of practice. The only thing I don’t like about this album is how ignorant it’s made me feel for being unaware of the hardworking Monteiro and his incredible body of work thus far. (He’s won Singapore’s highest artistic honor, the Cultural Medallion, you know.) I’ll definitely be checking out more of his catalog, as should you. Jeremy Monteiro Sings is out on Jazznote Records.
Jeremy Monteiro Sings