Fans of The Manhattan Transfer might find themselves in a bit of a quandary with this new release, The Symphony Sessions. There’s nothing wrong with the music – it’s outstanding – but the album is a reinterpretation of many of their past hits, so it stands to reason that fans would probably already have most of these in their music collection. On the other hand, they might welcome the chance to hear their favorite singing group in full, mature voice, backed up by the richness of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. And new or prospective fans might appreciate the opportunity to have a collection of some of the group’s best tunes, all nicely put together in this solid new album from Rhino, recorded earlier this year and previously available only in Japan.
I was instantly taken by the first cut, the Grammy winning “Route 66”. Having personally spent some time on that highway at various times through the years, I’ve always had my ear open for different versions of the song, and it doesn’t get any better than The Manhattan Transfer’s offering. (And it’s not the only Grammy winner on this album.)
Although the name Manhattan Transfer was first used for a different ensemble that went through various musical phases in the early days, the jazz vocal group we know today began in the early seventies and was originally comprised of Alan Paul, Janis Siegel, Tim Hauser, and Laurel Massé. In the late seventies Cheryl Bentyne replaced Massé and in the last thirty years they’ve steadily built a very successful performing and recording career, with multiple albums and awards, including eight Grammys.
The album is a good mix of songs, and has a number of traditional standards in addition to the aforementioned highway 66 ditty. These include tunes such as Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”, “Candy”, and “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”. All find the group in good voice and demonstrate the depth that’s added by the backing of a full orchestra. There isn’t a clinker to be had on this CD, as the group showcases their smooth and polished talents on song after song. Another Grammy winner, “Birdland”, is the last cut on the album and it has come to be considered the group’s signature tune.
The album notes include full lyrics, for those of you who’d like to sing along. As for me, I know my limitations and wouldn’t even try in the privacy of my shower stall.
The Manhattan Transfer: The Symphony Sessions — on the Rhino label.
1. “Route 66”
3. “Embraceable You”
4. “That’s The Way It Goes”
5. “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”
6. “Because You Are All Heart (Movement 2; Portrait of Ella)
7. “To You”
9. “Clouds (Nuages)”
10. “The Quietude”
11. “The Offbeat Of Avenues”