Review: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

Part of the joy of listening to really good jazz is the exciting spontaneity of improvisation. A rhythm that jumps out of nowhere, a melody that turns in an unexpected direction. In the cabaret show they are doing at the Cafe Carlyle, trumpeter Herb Alpert, his singer wife Lani Hall and the expert players behind them, this thrilling spontaneity is on more outlandish display than I think I’ve ever experienced in the world of cabaret.

Alpert is most associated with his group the Tijuana Brass, and was also a recording industry executive — he is the “A” of A&M Records, which he founded with business partner Jerry Moss. Lani sang with A&M artist Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, most famously on their hit version of “Mas Que Nada”. In the act at the Carlyle they perform selections from the two albums they’ve recently recorded together (the first time in their decades-long marriage that they’ve collaborated in that way), as well as a medley of Tijuana Bras hits.

I can’t overstate the impressive and exciting musicianship in this act. Alpert has structured the songs in intricate ways that leave abundant room for improvisation. They may play the same songs from night to night, but musically every performance will be utterly different. Alpert is a breathtakingly soulful player, and Lani has that kind of liquid crystal voice that songwriters dream of.

Most impressive of all was a reworking of brilliant Brazilian songwriter Edu Lobo’s “Viola Fora de Moda” – which Alpert has given a structure suffciently complex that the normally powerfully present Hall lost her place at the top of the number. Once she regained her composure, however, she and the band locked into a groove and improvised their way into the stratosphere. Stunning.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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