Herb Alpert and Lani Hall
Herb Alpert, Lani Hall and band. Photo by David Andrako
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
If you were around in the 1960's, the opening bars of Tijuana Brass and Brasil 66 are as ingrained as the sound of The Beatles. Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, his wife of 42 years, brought that joy back to the Café Carlyle for the fourth time and they added a lot more than nostalgia. With the irresistible mix of Brazilian rhythms, jazz and standards, this tight band of prime musicians is sheer magic with originality, emotion and complexity, ranging from "Fever" to "Spanish Flea."
Alpert's snappy trumpet, mostly muted here, brought his bright inventiveness to tunes like "Puttin' On the Ritz" and ""Sunny Side of the Street" in jazz combinations. He re-imagined the sultry mood of Van Morrison's "Moondance." A pairing of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" with the dash of spice in "I've Got You Under My Skin" showcased the better-than-ever vocals of Lani Hall and sizzled up the summer night with drama and passion, adding Alpert's subtle riffs behind her.
Hall delved deeper into the intent of the songs than I've heard before. Between songs she was open and communicative with the audience, yet as she moved into her lyrics, focused dimensions and nuances evolved. She was controlled yet charismatic and she delivered her songs with a strong point of view. "Never Never Land" from Peter Pan yearned for a respite from the chaos of the world today. Of course, since Hall was the original voice of Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '66 and their signature tunes like the quirky, "O Pato" ("The Duck") and "Mas Que Nada," she is exemplary, singing in fluent Portuguese. Moving into Spanish, she delivered "Besame Mucho" with Alpert's touches of staccato off-beat instrumental comments and some killer piano inventiveness by Bill Cantos.
Alpert took the lead in most songs and then stepped back to let his band show their stuff, with Hussain Jeffry's six-string bass, Michael Shapiro's percussive playfulness and creative Bill Cantos on piano and vocals. Since performing with Tijuana Brass on the Ed Sullivan Show, Alpert has been a legend on the music scene, including his co-creation of A&M records with Jerry Moss. As he said, A&M could have signed The Beatles back in the 1960's but they passed on it. Nothing more to be said about that but at the Café Carlyle, Alpert and his band delivered a salute to George Harrison's "Something," with the melody and lyrics Alpert admires. After an audience request for his own hit vocal, "This Guy's In Love With You," he challenged the audience to join in. They did.
All the elements were in place with this couple, their band and their music. They were gregarious and casual and their Café Carlyle audience, listening and responding to these fine talents, knew it.
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall
Herb Alpert (trumpet)
Lani Hall (vocals)
Bill Cantos (piano and vocals)
Hussain Jeffry (bass)
Michael Shapiro (drums)
May 31 to June 11, 2016
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors