The Manhattan Transfer

The Chick Corea Songbook

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It would be challenging for any ensemble to reinterpret the music of Chick Corea, but adding a larger vocal component did not deter the Manhattan Transfer in their attempt. Where the group picked some famous material, new pieces, and a few obscurities, this is not a comprehensive look at Corea's book. What the ensemble does offer is a wide-ranging view of Corea's more Latin-oriented themes, a few of the keyboardist's true cherry songs, and an expansion of where Corea's music might go if enhanced by a choir. Since Flora Purim and Gayle Moran are the only significant singers to grace Corea's music over the decades, their soaring presence has to be addressed, not to mention that the Transfer's vaunted, richly harmonic acumen is clearly present and accounted for. With assistance from keyboardist and music director Yaron Gershovsky and many guest instrumentalists (including Christian McBride, Edsel Gomez, John Benítez, and Vince Cherico), the group brings these tunes to life in a new reality. As might naturally be expected, Al Jarreau's lyrics to "Spain" show up, albeit three times -- in an adaptation of "I Can Recall" in a funky, plodding beat much slower than the original; the new composition, a five-minute "Free Samba" in choral carnival style with some counterpoint, English prose, and Corea alongside Airto joining in; and an inflated, extended version that allows everyone to fully stretch out. Pianist/arranger Fred Hersch appears on the excellent "Time's Lie" with Tim Hauser taking center stage on Neville Potter's lyric, while the kiddish "Children's Song #1" has lyrics by Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne in layers of counterpoint. "Children's Song #15" is much more spare, with Lou Marini's flute and Joe Passaro's marimba shading a one-minute wordless vocal. Then there's the most well-revered "500 Miles High," as rich angelic voices reach for the heavens in wordless refrains holding tension and a modicum of energy, again quite unlike the initial famous version done by Return to Forever with Purim. In a minimalist 6/8 metered mode, "Another Roadside Attraction" is warmer and percussion-driven, while Hauser again steps away from the others for his wordsmithing during "One Step Closer," a swinger with finger snaps and the whistling of Hi-Lo's veteran Don Shelton. A take on "Armando's Rhumba" retitled "The Story of Anna & Armando" for Corea's parents has Siegel's delightful lead extravagantly expressing gratitude. As ambitious as this project is, with Corea's full blessing and endorsement, it falls short of being essential. Nonetheless, it is pleasing from start to finish, quaint and charming in its own way.

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