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time in my humble opinion) conquers another musical genre, I ask myself in between all the repeated listenings what musical territory they possibly have left to cover? They've already mastered doo-wop, pop music from several decades, jazz vocalese, Brasilian, and Christmas music, among others. In this case, they reach deep into the nostalgia bag - to the thirties, the beginning of the swing era. Not coincidentally, ballroom dancing to swing music is making a big comeback nationwide as a new generation in their teens, twenties, and thirties take ballroom dancing lessons and kick up their heels to tunes such as these. So ManTran's latest venture is perfectly positioned to satisfy this new/old craze.
But there's more at work here that just a collection of Fletcher Henderson charts and old chestnuts attributable to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald ("A-Tisket, A-Tasket"), Benny Goodman ("Air Mail Special" and a couple others) and Charlie Barnet ("Skyliner"): the country music sounds of Nashville and Austin. The country group "Asleep at the Wheel" is featured on several cuts, and Nashville notables such as Ricky Skaggs and Mark O'Connor back up others. And while a whining steel guitar and jammin' bluegrass fiddles seem like an unlikely and incompatible match with the swing era, the marriage works surprisingly well. Most of the program is indeed swingin', happy, and definitely dancable. (Try not to.)
There's yet another ingredient in this delicious recipe: the Transfer's trademark vocalese (applying lyrics to the transcribed notes of instrumental jazz solos). On tunes such as "Skyliner," "It's Good Enough to Keep" (Air Mail Special), and "Down South Camp Meetin'," the artful lyrics fly by fast and frantic, recalling their 1984 triumph, Vocalese. About three-fourths of the way through the disc, you get a break from the dance floor to enjoy the mellow, introspective "Clouds," a vocal version of the Django Reinhardt classic "Nuages." It features the ageless violinist Stephane Grappelli and the Rosenberg Trio.
So by all means, pick up a copy of Manhattan Transfer's latest masterpiece. And get ready to dance!