The Spirit of St. Louis
Keeping with the spirit of the ongoing centennial birthday celebration for the legendary Louis Armstrong, the always-groundbreaking vocal group The Manhattan Transfer offers The Spirit of St. Louis. With k.d. lang and Cassandra Wilson producer Craig Street at the helm, the album invokes Satchmo's gruff-but-wistful appeal through an adventurous range of traditional to postmodern arrangements. From signature pieces like "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" to less universally familiar material, no song here is simply a by-the-numbers read. Instead, the quartet thrives in settings like the rich, old-style stompin', swamp-guitar vibe of "The Blues Are Brewin'," which lets Janis Siegel cut loose with a nostalgic yowl. Tim Hauser does his best Satchmo growl on the jumping Charleston dance "Old Man Mose," Cheryl Bentyne channels a swooning '30s club diva on "Sugar" (backed by Tin Pan Alley clarinet and keyboards) and Alan Paul croons across the lovely, slow-paced, New Orleans-flavored "Blue Again." The fun doesn't end with these carefully wrought neotraditional nuggets, though. The Transfer exercises its famed vocalese chops through zyde-cajun gumbo on "Stompin' at Mahogany Hall" and sweeps through a modern elliptical guitarscape on the aforementioned "A Kiss to Build a Dream On." The group's signature harmonies are in full bloom on a unique postmodern take on "When You Wish Upon a Star" that ends the song cycle. With a gently swaying, ever-so-slightly off-kilter arrangement highlighting bass and organ, the oft-covered tune is lent a simultaneously warm and eerie feeling-not unlike a deep-South processional-and certainly something that Armstrong himself would have loved.