Born in New York in the mid-1970s, Monika Ryan took an early interest in jazz and especially jazz singing. Principal among the musicians she admired was Carmen McRae, although from her early 20s she also developed a special ability as a composer.
After graduating from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in the late 1990s, she worked locally and made her recording debut in 2000, her first two albums released under the name Monika Brand. The name change came some while after her 2002 marriage to Jeremy Ryan, with whom she co-owns Resensitize Records.
Her latest album, Playfully, is her 14th and all of the songs are her own compositions, each of them clearly demonstrating her interest in and skill with intelligent and meaningful lyrics. The themes she explores deal with intense emotions arising from the building of personal relationships, of loss and rediscovery, and all are cloaked in an air of optimism, a valuable quality in today’s troubled world.
Ryan’s vocal sound is rich and appropriately expressive and goes to the heart and soul of the songs. She is backed by the trio of pianist Steve Einerson, bassist Rene Hart and drummer Alvester Garnett, all of whom are subtly supportive, with Einerson having some well-taken solo opportunities.
On first hearing, the songs gathered here do not have immediately memorable melodies but many of the lyrics will be retained, at least in the subconscious mind. Those living in the New York area should certainly take the opportunity to attend one of Monika Ryan’s live performances where her impact is likely to be strong.
Keepin’ It Light, Keepin’ It Mellow; Grow Where I’m Planted; I See It In You; Let Me Love The Whole Of You; I Found That Place; You Are Magic To Me; Slipping Out; We’re Here; Reason To Be Happy; Living Thoughtfully; Whole And Resounding Love (43.27)
Ryan (v); Steve Einerson (p); Rene Hart (b); Alvester Garnett (d). Trenton, NJ, 2023.