After a summer of concert cancellations, the great jazz vocal group The Manhattan Transfer played to a full house at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium on Monday.
Or, in the words of “Birdland,” their vocalese hit and tribute to Charlie Parker and the classic New York jazz club he used to play: Yes indeed they did, Yes indeed they did Yes they did Manhattan Transfer played in the Holy Land Yes they really did Yes indeed they really did told the truth way down in Holy Land.
And like Parker in that whimsical song, they “cooked,” as their rhythm “swooped and swirled.”
Showing an energy belying their years, the vocal quartet comprised of Janis Siegel, 62, Cheryl Bentyne, 60, Alan Paul, 64, and Tim Hauser, 72, whirled through a 19-song set, featuring many of their greatest hits, like “Birdland,” “Trickle Trickle,” “Java Jive,” “Corner Pocket,” “Route 66” and – as the encore – the finger-snapping “Boy From New York City.”
The voices may not be as velvety as they were at their height in the ’80s, but when singing and harmonizing together, they channeled that foot-tapping magic that led them to 10 Grammy awards and recognition as one of the all-time premier jazz vocal groups. They were artfully accompanied by their long-time pianist and musical director, Israeli Yaron Gerhovsky; Cliff Almond on drums; and Boris Kozlov on bass.
Siegel was especially good, scatting wonderfully in a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald – “A-tisket, A-tasket” – that would have made the First Lady of Song proud. Likewise, she soared on “Birdland.”
The one awkward point of the show was a rather screechy vocalese rendition of “Tutu,” by Bentyne, which was Miles Davis’ tribute, as she pointed out, to the “great Bishop Desmond Tutu.”
Tutu is the virulently anti-Israel South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate who likes to accuse Israel of apartheid, and who just last week urged a giant Dutch bank to divest from Israel. Not sure Tel Aviv was the best place to sing Tutu’s tributes, even in jazz form, especially when there are so many other – better songs – in the group’s repertoire.
But forget Tutu. The significance of the group playing in Israel precisely now – after a summer of war – was not lost on its members.
“We know how difficult it has been and we are proud and honored to be here,” Paul, said about three-quarters through the 100-minute performance, and just after Siegel sang a wonderful bossa nova song in Portuguese.
Paul said he wanted to dedicate the next song to all the children, “praying that they can live in peace without fear and in joy.”
With lights dimmed low, Paul – holding a page of lyrics – sang a cantorial-sounding Yiddish lullaby, transporting the listener from the Brazilian rainforests to a Polish shtetl.
Then, after a warm round of appreciative applause for the gesture, it was – boop bop, boop bop – back “way down south in Birmingham, I mean south, in Alabam,’” right smack-dab in the middle of “Tuxedo Junction,” that upbeat Glenn Miller jazz classic, which they sang with infectious enthusiasm and energy – even now, after all these years – to near perfection.