The Manhattan Transfer is back with the appropriately titled Couldn’t Be Hotter, the foursome’s long overdue follow-up to 1987’s Live and 1996’s Man-Tora! Live in Tokyo. Recorded at Tokyo’s Orchard Hall nearly three years ago, Hotter launches a three-album deal with Telarc (a new studio album, their first since the 2000 Satchmo tribute Spirit of St. Louis, is due early next year). Unlike most live recordings (especially for a group with such longevity), Hotter isn’t merely a rehash of their greatest hits. Instead, typical of the Transfer’s dexterity (unparalleled among contemporary vocal groups), they celebrate their silver anniversary (though the Transfer dates to 1972 the current line-up of Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul and Cheryl Bentyne first came together in 1978) with a sterling assortment of fresher material. Indeed, only two tracks, “Don’t Let Go” (originally recorded in 1976, prior to Bentyne’s arrival) and the Paul-penned, disco-era Grammy winner “Twilight Zone,” recall the Transfer’s early days. Several of the cuts are gleaned from St. Louis and its immediate studio predecessor, Swing. There’s also the quasi-title track “Nothing Could Be Hotter Than That” (adapted from “Hotter Than That”), which ably demonstrates that, even after a quarter-century, no foursome swings tighter or hotter than the Transfer. In addition, there’s “It’s Good Enough to Keep” (based on Goodman’s “Air Mail Special”), refitted by Paul to show off the group’s phenomenal vocalese skills. Personal prejudice demands, however, that I reserve highest praise for their encore presentation of “My Foolish Heart” (which, I’ll confess, I’ve always considered the most beautifully shaped ballad of all time). The Transfer does it full justice, delivering a gorgeously tempered version that, in its elegant simplicity, harkens back to the salad days of the Four Freshmen.