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The Manhattan Transfer: The Symphony Sessions

If there’s one word that best describes Manhattan Transfer, it would be “hip.” Since 1969, through various incarnations and eight Grammys, everything they’ve performed has exuded that musical confidence known as hip. Put a small combo or symphony orchestra behind them, it makes no difference. Everything they do-from the finger-snapping start of “Route 66,” through the contrapuntal complexities of “The Offbeat of Avenues” (even the orchestral intro has a fugal feel) to the closing hard swinger, “Birdland,” which boasts words by Jon Hendricks and a chart by Joe Roccisano-bears the Transfer’s DNA of wide-open voicings, tight chordal clusters, and inside humor, plus enunciation and phrasing to die for.

Many tracks represent re-interpretations of classic songs from earlier albums, but very little early Manhatttan Transfer needs updating. Two Corey Allen arrangements provide high points: the Django Reinhardt classic, “Clouds,” and “The Quietude,” with thought-provoking lyrics by MT member, Alan Paul. Halfway through, it goes into 7/4, followed by a cinematic blend of French horns over tympani. Tempting for an orchestrator when he has the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra at his disposal.

Originally Published