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Manhattan Transfer

The Egg
Albany, NY
September 25, 2009

by Tom Pierce

For some reason, vocal GROUPS (in all genres), with notable exceptions like the Mills Brothers & Beatles, rarely receive the type of long lasting respect and fame that individual singers do. Another exception would be Manhattan Transfer, who have been together in their current edition since 1972, with the only change being Cheryl Bentyne replacing the injured Laurel Masse in 1978. They’ve carved out a very successful career, with numerous critical awards, several dozen best-selling recordings and thousands of well attended performances in large venues world-wide.

This observer confesses to being an ardent admirer of the quartet since 1975, after watching their CBS-TV summer-replacement TV show and then quickly purchasing their first LP, “The Manhattan Transfer”. I’ve been captivated by their seamless four part harmony, consistently smooth professionalism and matchless versatility in handling so many types of music.

Baritone/Bass Tim Hauser, the unit’s founder of their original format (with different personnel) in 1969, related immediately to the Capitol District audience that he was actually born in Troy. He also announced that their bassist (on both acoustic and electric) for the evening was Gary Wicks, son of long time local bassist Mike Wicks, who I noticed beaming proudly.

Other band members included the talented Yaron Gershovsky on keyboards (their musical director since 1977),  Adam Holly on guitar (who produced a number of pleasing solos & fills) and Steve Hart on drums.
The group’s trademark ability to deliver in multiple genres was certainly a hallmark of the evening as the songs reflected their interest in and popularity with, Jazz, R&B/Doo Wop, Brazilian and Pop.

The Jazz selections themselves spanned multiple sub-categories of America’s greatest true art form: Swing, Be-Bop, Fusion and Latin Jazz. Earl Hines’ 1932 classic “You Can Depend on Me”, was their stirring opener, from their initial LP, “The Manhattan Transfer” in 1975, which also had another uptempo standard later on in the program, “Route 66”. Their swing era numbers also included “Jeepers Creepers” from the 1938 movie of the same name that featured the unlikely pair of Louis Armstrong and Ronald Reagan. “Java Jive”, a 1940 novelty hit by the Inkspots, joyously celebrated the bracing qualities of coffee.

Be-bop was well represented by their swinging rendition of Horace Silver’s “Doodlin’, with the lyrics written by Jon Hendricks, for the 1958 LP, “The Swingers” for Lambert Hendricks & Ross, the founders of Jazz Vocalese, who inspired the Transfer and so many other vocal groups since.

Their Jazz fusion numbers included their huge 1979 hit, Joe Zawinul’s infectiously grooving “Birdland” for Weather Report’; and “Tutu”, Bassist Marcus Miller’s composition on Miles Davis’ 1986 tribute to Desmond Tutu. As would be expected, they also did several numbers from their latest CD (release date Sept 29), “The Chick Corea Songbook”, including his classic “Spain”, a challengingly tricky vocal arrangement.

Although it would be difficult to select which genre resonated most with the audience, it might be a close call between the Doo Wop ballad numbers such as the Harptones of Manhattan 1956 cult classic,  “That’s the Way It Goes” & the haunting “Gloria” by the Cadillacs (a favorite of countless groups) ;and the exotically lilting and pulsating choices from their 1987 “Brasil” CD, especially the irresistible “Soul Food to Go”, composed originally as “Sina” by the legendary Djavan. And fans of 60’s Pop responded strongly to their take on the Rascals’ “Groovin’”, which they sang on their 1995 CD, “Tonin’”, with the composer, Felix Cavaliere.

I was personally happy that, unlike many past Transfer concerts I’d attended over the years,  they included a solo showcase spot for each of them. Tim Hauser delivered a very touching reading of the standard, “She’s Funny That Way” from his first solo CD, “Love Stories”. Janis Siegel, the spirited Alto who has the most solo recordings in the group,  showed her Fitzgerald influence with a playful treatment of Ella’s first hit, “A Tisket a Tasket”, while with Chick Webb’s orchestra in 1938. Tenor Alan Paul was superb on “Corcovado (Quiet Nights)”. He introduced it by relating how memorably moved they all were in visiting Antonio Carlos Jobim at his home, where he had composed so many of his legendary songs, while they were recording their “Brasil” CD. Soprano Cheryl Bentyne, whose vocal tone has deepened nicely over the years, sang an impressive, Latin-tinged version of  the moving McCoy Tyner/Sammy Cahn ballad, “You Taught My Heart to Sing”.

The Egg audience of over 700 clearly long-time fans, mostly in their 50’s and 60’s, enthusiastically responded throughout the two hour set, without an intermission, and left satisfied after two encore songs. The real warmth displayed between the quartet’s members spoke volumes in explaining their ability to remain creatively stimulated and happy to stay within this group for 37 years, while also engaging their own many solo vocal & producing projects.

Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 45 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland the last 8 years, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz and the SwingTime Society in a variety of ways.