Well into its second decade as the best singing group in jazz--or any other musical idiom for that matter--the Manhattan Transfer can, at the top of a downbeat, cross musical boundaries to conjure the images of Charlie Parker, Eddie Jefferson, street-corner doo-wop, gospel and rock. And never once does the quartet seem to be doing anything musical that’s not true to form and authentic.
At the first of its four Greek Theatre concerts Thursday night, the Transfer provided a well-paced, razzle-dazzle show that was the most ambitious the group has attempted. Everything worked like a charm during the nearly three-hour show, which went by like a short minute.
The Transfer--Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Alan Paul--opened with an acoustic jazz set of vocalese putting Jon Hendricks’ lyrics to a variety of jazz standards, including such classics as Bobby Troup’s “Route 66,” Thad Jones’ “To You” and Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring.” The alto saxophonist Richie Cole joined the Transfer for one song.
A set change to a city street scene found Hauser doing his El Dorado Caddy hipster routine before launching the group into “Killer Joe.” From there the group worked its way through a series of doo-wop numbers before being joined by Frankie Valli for a rousing medley of Four Seasons hits, which garnered the first standing ovation of the evening.
The second half of the show featured the group performing its best-known tunes. Between the energetic renditions of “Birdland” and “Boy From New York City” came quiet moments with “Java Jive,” a marvelously bluesy feature of Siegel’s gospel-inspired “Operator” and Eddie Jefferson’s classic “Jeanine.”
Keyboardist Yaron Garshovsky led an adept backup quintet featuring the delightful guitar work of Wayne Johnson and the saxophone of Don Roberts.