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JAZZ REVIEW : Manhattan Transfer: A Bit of Everything

December 28, 1987|A. JAMES LISKA

Is there a singing group in the world that can begin the evening with Bobby Troup's classic "Route 66," wend its way through a series of bop, Brazilian and doo-wop tunes, end with "Embraceable You" and still manage to grab more than a handful of standing ovations from a crowd ages 15 to 70?

The answer is yes, and the name of the group is the Manhattan Transfer, the vocal foursome whose music seems to cut through demographic breakdowns like a knife through butter. At the Universal Amphitheatre on Saturday night, where the group began a six-night stand, the Transfer managed to provide something for everyone while still maintaining the highest standards of musicality and showmanship.

A group that has run the gamut of musical styles throughout its nearly two-decade-long career, the Manhattan Transfer has of late become enamored with the music of Brazil. Not since Stan Getz made Antonio Carlos Jobim a household name in the early '60s has the music of that South American country been made so enjoyable.

Working with the phenomenal four-man percussion ensemble called Uakti, the considerable vocal and composing talents of Djavan, and its own capable sextet, the Transfer made contemporary Brazilian music completely accessible and understandable to an audience perhaps unfamiliar with such interesting and beautiful sounds.

Through such efforts of Cheryl Bentine's dramatic reading of "So You Say," Janis Siegel's gentle rendering of "Agua," Alan Paul's moving rendition of "Notes from the Underground" and Tim Hauser's singing of a Portuguese ballad by Djavan, the group captured the spirit and flavor of Brazil--its music, its culture and its politics.

While each aspect of the show--its opening be-bop session with "Rambo," "Meets Benny Bailey" and "Joy Spring"; its lengthy delving into Brazilian music, and its selection of pop tunes--worked well, the show as a whole would have worked better had the Brazilian mood set so splendidly by Uakti been continued with the extraordinary Djavan. As enjoyable as "Birdland" and "On the Boulevard" are, they only serve to distort the focus, played as they were after intermission.

Nonetheless, the Transfer as usual managed to deliver a delightful show worthy of attention. It's certainly the best vocal show currently in town.

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