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February 16, 2010

Review: Manhattan Transfer


40th anniversaries are no longer a rarity in popular music, but they're usually accompanied by some degree of acrimony -- manifested in public sniping, separate buses and the like. But as they commemorate that milestone, the Manhattan Transfer haven't aired a shred of dirty laundry and -- as evidenced at the first night of their Gotham stand -- seem every bit as enthusiastic about their musical collaboration as they were decades ago.

Playing a venue that often brings out the more affected facets of most artists, the quartet acted as if they were treading the boards of an old-school jazz club. Each of the members played to their particular vocal strengths, but just as importantly, each showcased a singular personality -- from the deadpan stylings of founder Tim Hauser to the coltish giddiness of Cheryl Bentyne, who looked as thrilled when one of her bandmates seized upon a successful riff as when she did so herself.

There were plenty of winning notes in the 80-minute perf -- Janis Siegel's wide-eyed lead vocal on "A Tisket, A Tasket" and a slinky, low-slung take on "Route 66" among them -- but none more captivating than the interludes where they brought out their octogenarian mentor Joe Hendricks to harmonize, and take a few leads of his own. Hendricks has changed his vocal range a bit, naturally enough, but his phrasing and cadence are still razor-sharp, notably on a spry version of "Gimme That Wine," a tune he popularized as one-third of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

The Transfer touched on their recent Four Quarters release "The Chick Corea Songbook" in a three-song mini-set keyed by a wending "Spain" suite, and picked up considerable steam at set's end, with Bentyne delivering a knockout lead on Gilberto Gil-Tracy Mann's gorgeous "Hear the Voices." By the time they wrapped things up with their take on "Birdland," it was easy to believe one had actually been transported back to that hallowed hall.

Presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center. Musicians: Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne, Yaron Gershovsky, Steve Hass, Gary Wicks, Adam Hawley. Special Guest: Jon Hendricks.

Posted by acapnews at February 16, 2010 9:51 PM


Oh, wow. Would I like to see a recording of that. Thanks for the report. Glad to know they still seem to enjoy performing together as they always have.

Posted by: Drew at February 17, 2010 11:08 AM

I recently saw this band at The Blue Note in New York. The above review is a perfect example of the type of musical ignorance that occurs in amateur vocal music. When a musical group is in performance, the listener should be experiencing one musical entity. At this intimate show, I experienced 3 musical entities; Highly professional to barely elementary.

A beautifully grooving trio of Adam Hauley, Gary Hicks and the marvelous Steve Hass whom I have seen at this same venue with Christian McBride and John Scofield. A rhythmically and harmonically lost Yaron Gershovski who constantly played out of time chromatic jazz lines. A vocal quartet who had a very difficult time finding the rhythmic pulse which was very strong, yet extremely low volume. They had an even harder time finding pitch. The mix was awful and very unflattering. The sound tech at the Blue Note must be deaf, because we heard mostly voices and piano. The stage volume of the rhythm section was too soft, and the vocals needed to be tucked into the band. This would have helped them sound as if they were singing in tune. Unfortunately, the sound tech decided to expose every vocal inconsistency. To make matters worse, Alan Paul turned back and yelled at the band "watch your volume!". I yelled back from the upper level, "we can't hear them!". They obviously didn't hear me. To top it off, they also perform superfluous solo numbers. The Manhattan Transfer needs to learn how to perform with an ensemble, and they are in dire need of extensive vocal lessons. Particularly the two men.
After watching some older you tube videos of them, I see that they sounded better in their prime. Still in the videos, they do not lock up with their band. I felt for the musicians that night at The Blue Note. I hope for their sake they earning decent pay.

Fortunately we had some tasty food and drinks making the evening somewhat salvageable.

Posted by: ROBERT BLUMAN at December 26, 2010 4:45 PM

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