Over the past 15 years, The Manhattan Transfer has built a reputation as one of the world's most popular vocal groups. It's also one of the most versatile, which it proved recently on its album ``Brasil,'' a collection of songs by some of Brazil's top contemporary composers: Djavan, Ivan Lins, Gilberto Gil, and Milton Nascimento. The Transfer is best known for its great jazz arrangements, but the group has also delved into doo wop, pop and rock, and other vocal styles. The ``Brasil'' album, however, was a real departure, one that took them to Brazil many times to learn the musical styles of that country.
Janis Siegel, who sings alto and does a lot of the arranging for the group, told me in an interview, ``It was a fascinating project, because we really had never delved into this music before in a `hands-on' way, actually singing it and trying to get into the rhythms.''
Even though The Manhattan Transfer had never been to Brazil before and its records aren't available there, the Brazilians seemed to know about the group, and invited it to perform at a jazz festival. Said Tim Hauser, the Transfer's founder:
``The reason we wanted to go there was because we ... didn't want it to be an intellectual perception of Brazil; we wanted to go down there and get some feelings, and meet people, and just try to get a little more inside.''
``We were lucky enough to meet all the great ones,'' said Cheryl Bentyne, the Transfer's soprano, ``We stayed at Jobim's house and sat around the piano with him. It was outrageous! We were in Ivan Lins's studio. ... We had dinner with Djavan and Milton [Nascimento].''
So The Manhattan Transfer has added yet another style of music to its repertoire. At its recent concert here at Radio City Music Hall, it downplayed the ``Brasil'' album, saving portions for the second half of the show. But it gave generous samplings of jazz and bebop, doo wop and rhythm & blues, and ballads, showing that versatility is the group's trademark. In fact, the Transfer's so versatile that it sometimes presents problems in record stores. Where do you look for Manhattan Transfer albums? Under jazz, pop, vocals, or what? Tim Hauser says he's solved that problem by taking the situation literally into his own hands: ``I move 'em around. I put a little in `Jazz,' a little in `Pop,' a little here, a little there.''