As a member of the Manhattan Transfer, Cheryl Bentyne has developed a reputation as a strikingly hip purveyor of jazz, show and bygone pop tunes. So it's no surprise that her first solo album, "Something Cool" (Columbia), is a moody tribute to a generation of singers that includes June Christy, Jeri Southern and Peggy Lee.
"I like to do music that challenges me and is interesting," Bentyne, 39, said earlier this week from her home in Los Angeles, "music that you can find intriguing and can hear with your heart. Unfortunately, that isn't always what sells."
Released last year, the disc features tunes from Duke Ellington, Kurt Weill and Michel Legrand as well as a haunting version of Artie Shaw's "Moonray," and a suitably sultry version of John Davenport's "Fever."
" 'Something Cool' has a real blue mood, which is exactly what I wanted to accomplish," Bentyne said. "And 'Fever' was perfect for the album, for the era I was dealing with. I've been developing my style, getting gutsier, more tough and willing to sing that kind of music."
She's already begun preparing her second solo project. "The next album will be more up-tempo; a swinging, string quartet kind of sound, like the hot jazz of Paris. People need a focus; you can't just have a different style on every cut. And I like being thematic."
She'll be performing music from both finished and future projects this weekend at Maxwell's in Huntington Beach in a rare appearance outside the Manhattan Transfer.
Bentyne said that live performances are crucial to developing her concept. "You get an immediate response in front of an audience. You can tell what songs will work, and that gives clarity to what you do in the studio."
At Maxwell's, she'll be working with drummer Kurt Wortman, bassist John Leftwich and her husband, com poser-pianist Corey Allen.
"He's the most talented man I know," Bentyne said of her mate of two years. "I know how to pick them. So I did."
Bentyne continues to be busy with the Transfer as well. The group--whose other members are Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul--will spend June and July in Europe, covering the summer jazz festival circuit. They'll also be working on a Christmas special for television and a new recording. But this weekend, Bentyne is on her own.