« Chanticleer's expert technique ties together diverse selections | Main | Bella Voce calls it quits »

March 4, 2005

Manhattan Transfer unplugged

Vail Daily (CO)

Well-respected by jazz aficionados around the globe, the voices of the quartet, Cheryl Bentyne, Tim Hauser, Alan Paul and Janis Siegel, harmonize at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek Thursday. "We have such a large repertoire of music that we try to balance it. People actually want to hear stuff they know, and then they have a tolerance for the other stuff," Paul said, in a rare moment where he was actually at home in Los Angeles. "There's no question that it's really selective. I mean, we're not Britney Spears. We're not the latest pop group. It takes a certain sophistication of ear to be exposed to us in the first place, and we really try to stay current. We're not a group that's known for only stuff we did back then."

The singers wide range of vocal styles from real jazzy harmonies to doo-wop to blues, parallels their array of fans, young and old. "Demographically, it's really pretty wide because we have fans that have been with us since the beginning and we also have fans that have picked up on us at different times of our career," Paul said.

This time around, fans get a musical treat. In an attempt to address the more modest locales and create an intimate environment, The Manhattan Transfer is going unplugged, something they've never done before. "It's a much acoustical show," Paul said. "The focus will be more on the voices. It'll be interesting to see the response. We wanted to play some smaller venues that we haven't been able to play in because of carrying everyone on the road." The singers will be accompanied by piano, chello and percussion, Paul said, allowing an audible space for the voices that isn't usually there. The group writes out all of its songs, but they open up many of them for improvisation.

"We do have the chemistry," Paul said. "Sometimes we shut our eyes and just listen. Each of us brings our own vocal talents to the group. Individually it wouldn't sound like The Manhattan Transfer. I identify really in the ability to intuitively harmonize with each other. Harmonizing is not something that you can always teach someone." The quartet's success depends on its willingness to listen to one another on and off stage, a skill that has kept them going since its inception in 1972.

"It's really like a family," Paul said. "We disagree sometimes, we get into arguments sometimes. But we really strive to acknowledge the things that we like about each other and ignore the other things - that allows us to be creative." When performing, their voices blend to become one luxurious sound, which they worked to perfect for six months before they even stepped on a stage. "Many of the big bands, like Count Basie, I mean they breath together. They work together in such synchronicity" Paul said. He recalls a benefit for Ella Fitzgerald at the Lincoln Center where they performed with a big band of all the A players who had their own solo careers. When the band got together, they didn't sound so good. "They didn't blend together. They couldn't conceptualize themselves playing together," Paul said. "It just takes time, and we put in the time."

The group also encourages one another to be individuals, bringing them ultimately closer. Paul recently released a solo album, as did Siegel and Bentyne, and Hauser has one in the works. "We do solo projects, we have individual lives. It keeps us fresh that way," Paul said. "It's very hard to be in a group, that's why so many bands break up. We're like a microcosm of life. I give credit to all of us to have matured to a place where we're able to deal with those things."

Paul, who began his career as a child actor performing on his own, eventually making his way to Broadway, never imagined dedicating his career to a group. "I really believe that we all come to this planet with something specific to do, and sometimes it's not what we think it's going to be," Paul said. "It never donned on me that this is where I was going to end up. I think life takes us where we need to go. If we could all accept that, we would all be much happier."

The Manhattan Transfer doesn't expect to stop harmonizing anytime soon. "We always promised ourselves when the creativity stopped and we weren't doing anything new, we would call it quits," Paul said. "We've been so, so fortunate. It's such a grace. I never take it for granted.

Posted by acapnews at March 4, 2005 12:56 AM