Cheryl Bentyne joined The Manhattan Transfer to sing the soprano part left open by Laurel Massé in 1979. Ten Grammys and 38 years later, she still performs with the group, which maintains an active international touring schedule. But her solo work, while perhaps less well known, is just as dynamic as her group work—and intriguingly diverse. As a soloist Bentyne has tackled film soundtracks, audiobooks, and meditation music in addition to the masterfully arranged standards that are her bailiwick, and with reArrangements of Shadows: The Music of Stephen Sondheim, her latest Artistshare release, she makes her initial foray into musical theater. Don’t expect any belting or showstoppers, however. Though wide-ranging, Bentyne’s exploration of Broadway’s most sophisticated composer/lyricist—her avowed “personal hero”—stays well within the jazz purview. Sondheim’s compositions take on an added sheen through this lens: A percussive “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle with bass and drum only as accompaniment. A slow, swinging “Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, with scats and side commentary by fellow vocalists Tierney Sutton and Janis Siegel. A jazz string-quartet setting for “Comedy Tonight” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. And most arrestingly, a voice-percussion-only arrangement of “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, with close vocal harmonies by Mark Kibble and Armand Hutton. On March 5 Bentyne will present the new album at Birdland, right in the heart of New York’s theater district.
A few weeks later, on March 30, The Manhattan Transfer—Bentyne, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul, and newcomer Trist Curless (Curless replaces Manhattan Transfer founder Tim Hauser, who passed away in 2014)—will release its first album in 10 years. The Junction (BMG) takes its title from Glenn Miller’s “Tuxedo Junction,” the vocal version of which appeared as the first tune on the original quartet’s first album back in 1975. With that Atlantic Records release, The Manhattan Transfer introduced a new generation to the magnetic appeal of vocalese and a cappella jazz. (The earliest version of The Manhattan Transfer had five members and produced one album for Capitol Records.) Like Bentyne, all of the singers in the long-lived quartet have other musical identities, but when performing together harmony rules. “Democracy is the fabric of the group,” Bentyne says.
Alexis Cole has recorded four albums for the Japanese record label Venus, each one a masterful collaboration with premier jazz musicians like Fred Hersch and Bucky Pizzarelli. In 2010 she joined with the seriously swinging sextet One For All to record You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To for Venus—11 straight-ahead tunes (e.g., “Moon River,” “Cry Me A River,” “Golden Earrings,” and the title cut) that show off Cole’s consummate command of vocal jazz. Cole is at her finest on this release, which just became available in the U.S. Cole will be at Smoke on March 15.
Singer/pianist Laila Biali splits her time between her native Toronto, New York City, and the road—a challenging beat for an artist with a family. Biali addresses this conflict in her original tune, “Satellite,” one of 12 contemporary jazz compositions on her latest release, Laila Biali (Kobalt). With an impressive record as a touring musician with leading pop acts, Biali brings a fresh sound and a skilled songwriting hand to the recording—and a uniquely female point of view. Biali, currently crossing the U.S. on a CD release tour, will play Birdland on March 8.
After three years of hosting weekly jazz jams up in Hudson Heights, WaHi Jazz founders singer Louise Rogers and pianist Mark Kross will kick off the inaugural WaHi Jazz Festival on March 9. The festival, which lasts for three days, features various local jazz artists performing in three different Heights establishments. Rogers, who scats like a reincarnated horn player, will open the festival, and Songbook stylist LaTanya Hall will close it.
Other gigs: Bobby McFerrin, who in 1985 snagged a best vocal arrangement Grammy with Bentyne for their a cappella hit “Another Night in Tunisia,” will be playing at Blue Note in SpiritYouAll March 23-April 1. (Hall sang on the 2010 recording of same.) You can catch Pamela Hamilton, probably the only vocalist-cum-violinist around, at Sistas’ Place on March 24 performing her big-hearted renditions of pop, jazz, and R&B classics. And Danish jazz phenom Sinne Eeg drops her first U.S.-produced album, Dreams, at Kitano on March 7.
(Reprinted from the March issue of The New York City Jazz Record.)