Manhattan Transfer Feb. 19, 2005
Manhattan Transfer: Steady On and On
By Glen Creason
It’s funny that the Manhattan Transfer has been doing what they do for more than a quarter of a century and are still at the top of their game. That sporting slant at popular music is a hybrid of four part Jazz harmony applied to songs from assorted genres, particularly some classic, up-tempo songs from America’s native musical form called everything from Be-Bop to Progressive Jazz. Whatever box you put the music in the Transfer takes it out and chisels it into a song sculpture suited to their particular talents. Vocalese is one of those talents in which the group uses the human voice like a musical instrument, striking the notes with briskness and precision that is often too fast to separate but quite enjoyable to hear. When they get in the groove they can be truly great and for the most part at Cerritos they had it going on.
The foursome, with a strong quartet behind them came out vocalese-ing with a lickety-split “Doodlin’” blended straight up into “Stomp of King Porter” in which the best moments belonged to the ladies Cheryl Bentyne and especially Janis Siegel. It really helps that the band has the extremely versatile and accomplished Yaron Gershovsky directing the quartet while playing superb piano solos which spice up each and every song. Their “Route 66” was well paved and smooth at a tempo well beneath the normal speed limit and “Candy” was very nice, sweet without being saccharine. Janis Siegel continued to shine using her pipes as a trumpet in “a Tisket a Tasket” that really swung. The charged up “Stompin’ at the Mahogany Hall” and “the Joint Is Jumpin'’” set the tone for a high energy second half.
While the curtain raising set was very good the post intermission offerings bordered on sensational. More eclectic material and certainly tighter harmonies got the audience involved and focused on the bigger musical picture. The old Rascal’s gem “Groovin’” never sounded so good and both Rufus Wainwright pieces “My Phone Is on Vibrate for You” and “Greek Song” showed the band growing and changing with the times gracefully. They took chances, danced over near the edge and won over the house that had come to hear them play their many” hits.” Adding a superb cellist from New York whose name was drowned out by the copious applause was a beautiful touch. The lovely lady’s sweet sound elevated everything she touched and made one long for more. “Walking in New York” from Manhattan Transfer’s latest CD demonstrated the longevity of their appeal with fluid singing and plenty of passion. This band works hard and takes the music to heart. To please the three decades worth of believers who had gathered at the Performing Arts Center they busted off a seriously swinging chunk of their oldies and still goodies at the finish. “Operator” was awesome, “Tweet, Tweet” really flew, “Do You Believe in Jazz” made believers out of everybody and “Birdland” was way more than fine. Standing O’s and encores just added more glimmer to the Manhattan Transfer’s luster.