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May 21, 2005

Harmony is what keeps them going

Register-Guard (OR):

Janis Siegel needs to help her son with his spelling homework. And cook dinner. And talk to a journalist from across the country. No wonder Siegel - one quarter of the Grammy-winning vocal jazz group the Manhattan Transfer - doesn't sound like she's kidding all that much when she says she looks forward to spending the rest of the year on tour. "Well actually, in a way, it's almost easier to be out for a longer time because you've made whatever arrangements you have to make with your family," she said, speaking by phone from her home in New York City. "For us, it's almost a vacation being out there; you have some time alone finally."

Siegel and her fellow Transferees - Tim Hauser, Alan Paul and Cheryl Bentyne - certainly will cover a lot of ground. They'll finish up a West Coast swing Thursday at Eugene's McDonald Theatre. Then they'll do a couple gigs in Texas and one in Indiana before heading to Europe at the end of June. The tour will take them to Australia, back to the states and to Europe again before wrapping up with a Christmas show at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

All this touring is in support of Manhattan Transfer's latest album, 2004's "Vibrate." It's the first album for the group in a few years, and is in many ways a throwback to the old days, Siegel said. Rather than deciding to center on one theme, she said, the band opted to explore a few different styles and voices. "Finally, we decided on everyone contributing a couple songs that we are really pas- sionate about," she said. "Each of us each had a couple pet projects and we all worked together to make each one of our visions manifest." It's an eclectic recording along the lines of earlier albums "Manhattan Transfer," "Coming Out" and "Pastiche." Not many albums sport a song by Ira Gershwin ("Embraceable You") and two by Rufus Wainwright ("Vibrate" and "Greek Song"). "And coexisting peacefully, I might add," Siegel said.

It's the ability and desire to mix things up that helps keep Manhattan Transfer going. The group has been together for more than 30 years with only one personnel change, when Bentyne replaced Laurel Massee more than 25 years ago. On the Eugene stop, the group will put on an "unplugged show," with the four voices backed by an acoustic trio. Nights like these keep the band fresh, Siegel said. "We can do a whole show with just a piano, or we can perform with a symphony or a big band or a rock 'n' roll style band," she said. "It keeps it interesting to do these different repertoires and different venues."

The group isn't sure what the next project will be - "We're going to have plenty of time on the road this summer to think about it," Siegel joked - but the foursome has crossed one big item off the band's to-do list. They recently recorded an a cappella album - a Christmas album for the Japanese market - that will be released in the United States and Europe later this year. "That was really fun," Siegel said. "Very challenging, though. It's a whole other kind of arranging and singing."

When not performing with Manhattan Transfer, all of the players keep busy with solo careers, producing other artists or both. But what keeps bringing them back? "There's that little thing we call harmony," Siegel said. "As much as I personally love doing my own thing, ... there is nothing like the sound of your voice blended in harmony with other people. "You really can't approximate that. It's pretty great."

Posted by acapnews at May 21, 2005 12:04 AM