Reaching the infectious chorus of the deep bass driven title track from The Junction, their first album in nearly a decade, The Manhattan Transfer brings their trademark seamless four part harmony to a lyric that doubles as an eloquent, wit-filled mission statement for this next phase of the 10 time Grammy winning vocal quartet’s storied career. Reaching a uniquely inspiring crossroads on their 45-plus year musical journey, they sing: “At the junction/it’s not a physical place you see/That’s not it’s function/Let’s work together, it’s stronger with you and me…it’s really more of a state of mind. . .so leave your old fashioned attitude and penguin suit behind.”
One of the co-writers on “The Junction” – which draws inspiration in part from The Transfer’s classic 1975 version of Glenn Miller’s “Tuxedo Junction” - is the group’s new member, bass vocalist Trist Curless, who began subbing on the road for band founder Tim Hauser in 2013 when he was ill and officially joined after Hauser’s passing in late 2014.
Welcoming Curless – a founding member of famed Los Angeles a capella group M-pact – to the fold, Janis Siegel (alto), Alan Paul (tenor) and Cheryl Bentyne (soprano) embrace a new dynamic and fresh possibilities for their legendary sound that artfully incorporates his low range into their established blend. The Junction was produced by another master vocalist, 5-time Grammy winner Mervyn Warren, a renowned film composer, arranger and producer and one of the founders of gospel/R&B a capella legends Take 6. In addition to his intricate vocal arrangements, Warren wrote the album’s first single, the soulful ballad “Sometimes I Do.”
While well-renowned for their spectacular re-imaginings of classics like “Java Jive,” “Birdland,” “The Boy From New York City,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “Route 66,” one of their most acclaimed albums was 1991’s The Offbeat of Avenues, which featured numerous group originals amidst the cover songs. In many ways, The Junction harkens back to that approach, with members of the group writing or co-writing five songs.
Paul’s co-write “Swing Balboa (Down on Riverside)” mixes the classic Balboa swing sound (which originated in Los Angeles in the 1920s) with edgy, modern electro-swing. Paul’s lyrics also re-fashion a 50’s Martin Denny recording called “Paradise Found” into the hopeful and calming, tropical flavored, “The Paradise Within.” Bentyne penned sly lyrics to saxophonist Grace Kelly’s moody, film noir-ish “Blues for Harry Bosch” which reference numerous classic detective movies. Siegel co-wrote and sings lead on the hip, uptempo “Shake Your Boogie (Galactic Vocal Version),” whose story cleverly incorporates a playful element of “Star Wars.”
The songs that The Transfer chose to re-imagine via cool new twists and Warren’s sparkling vocal arrangements perfectly reflect the band’s forward thinking aesthetic and the world they live in late in the 2010s. They launch the ten track set by finding new joy in harmonizing the classic rap of Us3’s early 90’s hip-hop/jazz hit “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” (based on Herbie Hancock’s soul-jazz treasure “Cantaloupe Island”), which the quartet fashions into “Cantaloupe (Flip Out!)” They also bring newfound pleasures and party energy to one of their biggest live crowd pleasers “Tequila,” with Paul adding a colorful lyric line he calls “The Way of the Booze”). Balancing these optimistic bursts are more pointed social commentaries like XTC’s “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul” and Rickie Lee Jones’ alternately harmonic and dissonant “Ugly Man.”
“As our work on The Junction, and the theme of the album, reflects, democracy is the fabric of the group, and has been from the beginning,” says Bentyne, “We all have a different take on music and appreciate different styles, so each member brings something to the table that is unique and something the others haven’t thought of. We have tremendous faith in that process. This album is completely us, a true snapshot of who we are right now, having survived so many hardships but looking forward to exciting new chapters in the band’s story. We all give great credit to Mervyn, without whom this project would not have come together as beautifully as it did. His participation, oversight, brilliant arrangements and production helped us make one of the strongest musical statements ever.”