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November 10, 2004

A 33-year-old vocal group continues to defy reason.

Style Weekly:

The Manhattan Transfer is a marvel of ultraslick nonconformity. Their swooping, tight-formation vocal harmony is instantly recognizable — not just because they do it so well, but because they’re almost the only ones to do it at all. Their polished populism is too sophisticated to appeal to the broad pop audience and too commercial to charm the critical elite. (Village Voice critic Robert Christgau infamously condemned them as “a blast from the racist past,” a frothing bit of political correctness akin to hitting a puppy with a ball-peen hammer.)

“Our manager at the time said any publicity was good,” recalls longtime member Janis Siegel, reached at her home in Greenwich Village. “We did stuff from a lot of black groups, but we were just mining this American music, looking at everything from a musical perspective.” They’re often compared to the jazz vocal improvisers Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, but the band’s real models according to Siegel were the ’40s swing vocalist “The Pied Pipers” and ’60s folk band the Kingston Trio, groups that are innovative, influential and deeply out of fashion.

The band has evolved over time. “We’ve been together 33 years this month,” Siegel says. “Tim [Hauser] is the founder, leader and benevolent dictator; he came up with a lot of the material from his vast record collection. Alan [Paul] came from Broadway and did the staging. I did a lot of arrangements and led rehearsals.” The precise vocal architectures leave little room for improvisation. “People don’t come to hear us for that,” Siegel says. “The real skill is singing consistently and accuracy, blending with the chords while being in the moment.” More

Posted by acapnews at November 10, 2004 8:32 PM