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Album Review

With a title like Vibrate, it would seem that the Manhattan Transfer had filled their first studio disc in four years with jazzy and exciting vocal workouts intended to shake the speakers. But the title is a bit misleading as Vibrate is one of their most subdued and elegant recordings, and one that harks back to the days of Mecca for Moderns where pop tangents were part of their repertoire. With an arrangement that remains fairly intact from the Brenda Russell original, "Walkin' in New York" begins the disc with a summery sidewalk swagger that sets the relaxed tone of the disc. Two successful Rufus Wainwright covers follow as the Transfer take "Greek Song" globe-hopping through the Middle East via Hawaii and then spin down to Brazil for a beautiful tango-inspired version of "Vibrate." On past recordings they have covered contemporary pop with mixed results, often sounding staid or forced, as on 1983's Bodies and Souls, but the chamber pop of Wainwright is a perfect fit for their vocal style. The tribalistic experiment of "First Ascent" bristles with harmonies and rhythms from musical lands rarely tread upon while a remake of the Beach Boys' "Feel Flows" abandons the original's psychedelic pop for a more soulful arrangement. Oddly enough, as their pop tendencies flourish on Vibrate, their more typical jazz tracks tend to sound like misfits. "Doodlin'" and "Embraceable You" are immaculately performed but lack the personality and depth found in the disc's pinnacle moment, "The New JuJu Man (Tutu)." This stunning vocalese recitation of the infamous Miles Davis recording of Marcus Miller's "Tutu," with lyrics by Jon Hendricks, is one of the most incredible performances that the Transfer have recorded. Cheryl Bentyne sounds otherworldly as she conjures up the spirit of Miles' muted trumpet and spews the solo lick by lick as the balance of the Transfer humanize the original's cold keyboard arrangement. As if they even need to prove it, the Transfer once again show that they are indeed the masters of vocal jazz and when they push the boundaries of vocal music, the results can be stunning. The balance of Vibrate may not come close to the dizzying height of "Tutu," but the Manhattan Transfer offer a pleasurable excursion through an eclectic set of contemporary jazz and pop.

Biography

Formed: 1969 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Riding a wave of nostalgia in the '70s, the Manhattan Transfer resurrected jazz trends from boogie-woogie to bop to vocalese in a slick, slightly commercial setting that sometimes failed to gel with the group's close harmonies. Originally formed in 1969, the quartet recorded several albums of jazz standards as well as much material closer to R&B/pop. Still, they were easily the most popular...
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