Their trademark, jazz-infused harmonies, dynamic performances and stylistic range..
Alan Paul, Janis Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Trist Curless (vocals); with the WDR Funkhausorkestor
Legendary vocal group, The Manhattan Transfer are celebrating their Golden Anniversary in 2022 and to celebrate they have released a greatest hits album appropriately titled ‘Fifty.
There are new arrangements of old favourites and a selection of new tracks and a Beach Boys cover.
There are 10 tracks with the best-selling quartet partnering with Germany’s renowned WDR Funkhausorchester Köln (WDR Radio Orchestra Cologne), plus symphony arrangers including Grammy Award winners Jorge Callandreli and Vince Mendoza.
When it came to deciding which material from the group’s substantial back catalogue to use, Paul says, “We wanted the choice of songs to somehow represent the significant transitions of our music over the span of five decades, which was a rather formidable task.”
He continues, “What interested us was choosing material that either represented a significant moment in the group’s history, or songs that perhaps were not necessarily hits, but ones we really loved.
Known for their trademark, jazz-infused harmonies, their dynamic performances and stylistic range, The Manhattan Transfer has achieved an incomparable career of hits across the pop, jazz and dance charts.
The group was the brainchild of singer Tim Hauser, who sadly passed away in 2014, and who, whilst working as a New York City taxi driver in the late ’60s, aspired to form a vocal harmony quartet.
In a uniquely New York moment, Hauser met singers Laurel Massé and Janis Siegel in his taxi.
Rounding out the group was Alan Paul, who, at the time, was a cast member of the musical show Grease, that had premiered in 1971 on Broadway. On October 1, 1972, the four vocalists became The Manhattan Transfer and the rest as they say is history.
Down the years, they have released 29 albums and 19 singles and won more than a clutch of Grammys along the way.
The first track on this record is ‘Agua’, which was originally on their 1987 album Brasil – this was produced with a number of Brazilian songwriters and is still as relevant today as it was then and opens this collection in a wonderful fusion of vocals and instruments.
Next up is Artie Shaw’s ‘The Man I Love’ and the vocals are laid harmoniously over a swing track; I did find the intermittent speeded up vocals a little difficult to listen to but that is part of their repertoire; lovely to hear a clarinet rounding out this song.
Third is ‘Paradise Within (Paradise Found)’ which begins with a lovely, typically New York jazz soundtrack, before the string section supports the vocals in a typical MT number that imbues the mind with the sights and sounds of the seventies and eighties.
Track four opens with an oriental sound but that’s not surprising as this is ‘On A Little Street In Singapore’: vocals start with a skilful scat section that leads into the main theme; this was originally a hit in 1978 and is from the album ‘Pastiche’.
2018’s album ‘The Junction’ provides the next song, ‘The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul’ along with track seven, ‘Blues for Harry Bosch’; the popular dance track ‘Twilight Zone’ is sandwiched in between.
Their best known song, certainly as far as UK fans are concerned, comes next and is the brilliant ‘Chanson D’Amour’; this was a single released in 1977 and which made it to no. 1 in the UK charts.
Track nine is ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’ and has a great mix of swing and a contemporary beat and leads up to the group’s unique cover of the Beach Boys’ hit, ‘God Only Knows’.
This is a fitting end to an album spanning five decades that will bring back memories to some and an army of new fans too.
Reviewed by Paul Beard