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October 12, 2007

Vocals in motion

The Herald (CA):

The Manhattan Transfer will never go out of style. Perhaps because there isn't any one style attached to the four-member vocal ensemble, except perhaps a contemporary jazz leaning, which is essentially pop music with jazz sensibilities.In the group's 35-year history, they've covered the gamut of genres, with attention to trends and nostalgic cycles.

And they have kept their fans interested by offering great musicianship, variety in arrangements and energetic performances of their career highlights, such as "Birdland," "Boy From New York City," "Java Jive," "Operator," and the list goes on and on for the 10-time Grammy Award-winning group.

"What I think is unique about Manhattan Transfer, which is different from all the other vocal groups, is that we are eclectic," said Los Angeles resident Alan Paul, a member of the group since its second inception in 1972. "We do lots of different styles. The Four Freshmen had their own approach, and Lambert Hendricks and Ross were known for their vocalese. We do doo-wop, we do jazz and vocalese, we do pop songs.

"We've been very fortunate in our career because Ahmet Ertegun signed us to Atlantic Records. After two and half years of schlepping around New York, gigging and trying to get a record deal and not being able to because no one would touch us, Ahmet was the one that saw it and signed us and trusted us, and gave us a lot of freedom to do our thing and just jump around."

Despite the group's shifting tastes in music, the members have been successful in keeping their act together with the same lineup for the last 28 years."It's been a great career and a real blessing," Paul said. "It's enabled us to want to continue. I think that over time, we learned a lot and grew up together. It's really like a family."

Prior to its 1972 inception as a four-part harmony retro swing act, founding member Tim Hauser participated in what has been described as a band similar to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.Formed in 1969, it didn't last very long, and Hauser, who had cut his teeth in doo-wop groups the Criterions and the Viscounts in his high school days, would later begin his search for new harmonizing partners.

Hauser met the first of his new ensemble in 1972 while working as a New York cabbie to supplement his income as a marketing executive.While riding in his cab, Laurel Massé discovered she knew of his only album with the original Manhattan Transfer, "Jukin'," and they connected. Several weeks later, Hauser met Janis Siegel at a party. Although she was then in a folk group called Laurel Canyon, Hauser convinced her and Massé to be part of his nascent group.

Paul, meanwhile, was appearing in the original Broadway production of "Grease." The bass player for the show was a songwriter trying to get a record deal. "He put together the guys from the "Grease" band and did a gig featuring his songs at this club," Paul said. "Janis and Laurel and this other girl were singing backup. I came down to listen. It was the first time I heard them sing and they blew me away. When I heard Janis sing, I could not believe the voice I heard out of this 19-year-old girl. She was like Aretha Franklin, and I went 'Wow, that's amazing.'

"Two weeks after that, Laurel approached me. 'Hey we're putting this group together with Janis and this other guy. Roy said you might be interested.' I really wasn't interested in being in a group. It was the last thing on my mind that I wanted to do in my career. But their voices were so powerful, I was interested to at least talk." Needless to say, he joined. Massé left the group in 1978 after a serious auto accident. Auditions were held to replace her, and Cheryl Bentyne, a singer/actress from Mt. Vernon, Wash., got the job.

While the early albums were often confusing for their breadth of stylistic daring, the group later would limit themselves to a particular concept for each release. The group's first radio hits were in Europe, and in America, they were first recognized for the pop song "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone" from the 1980 release "Extensions," which also contained the band's first Grammy-winning song "Birdland," a vocal remake of the great Weather Report song.

Manhattan Transfer's fortunes have remained fairly constant over the years, with live performance always being their strongest asset.

They've worked with stellar jazz musicians, and outside writers and producers, and each have solo careers as well, but they all have made significant contributions to the band's material, either in original songwriting or vocal arrangements. For their appearance next Thursday at Carmel's Sunset Theatre, Paul said they will present a program that represents a retrospective of their 35 years together and the 28 recordings they've put out.

Posted by acapnews at October 12, 2007 12:06 AM

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