Janis Siegel is amazing. One of the principal voices behind The Manhattan Transfer from the start, she’s also an accomplished solo artist. And the fascinating thing is, you never really know what she’s going to do next. Enter A Thousand Beautiful Things. The title may be misleading, because each note counts from the first track to the last, adding up to tens of thousands of beautiful things on this album.
A nine-time Grammy winner and seventeen-time Grammy nominee, Siegel has been a fixture with The Manhattan Transfer for 33 years. She has led some of the group’s most popular songs, including “Twilight Tone,” “The Boy from N.Y.C.,” “Ray’s Rockhouse” and “Birdland.” In addition, she has nine solo albums to her credit, including I Wish You Love, Friday Night Special and Sketches of Broadway. Throughout, Siegel has shown a fondness for standards, but the new album takes a different direction. “As much as I love singing standards, it’s not the only thing I love doing, and eventually I came to the idea of just doing some songs that I love—songs that I think are timely and relevant—in a Latin rhythmic context,” she says.
Among these is the stunning rendition of “I Can’t Help It,” penned by Susaye Cotton Green and Stevie Wonder and recorded on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. The rhythm set by Jackson’s version lends itself to a jazz interpretation. It’s definitely a beautiful thing that Siegel took it on, complemented by a sterling trumpet solo from Brian Lynch. At 6:01, it’s the third longest track on the album, offering plenty of room for the ensemble to go exploring.
The title song, a cover of Annie Lennox’s hit, allows even more improvisation. Marlon Saunders, a background singer on most of the tracks, adds an improvised recitation, naming a number of beautiful things as the song winds down. Drummer Steve Hass, a regular with The Manhattan Transfer, on whose Traveler album Siegel appears, layers some sensational support throughout, but particularly during Saunders’ recitation. Edmar Castaneda plays Colombian harp on several tracks, including a duet with Siegel on “A Wish.” On the delightful “The Suitcase Song,” Siegel and her sidemen are backed by Las Siegelitas, a vocal quartet that could easily be called “The Four Sylvias.” Bassist John Benetiz lays down a slick groove on the cover of Paul Simon’s “Love,” punctuated by pianist Edsel Gomez and Hass.
The Latin flavoring, superb musicianship and, of course, Siegel’s vocal dexterity and versatility make this record a keeper. Those who’ve only heard Sigel within the scope of The Manhattan Transfer are in for a jaw-dropping surprise—not that those already familiar with her solo efforts won’t experience the same effect. She’s clearly on top of her game. And the entire album has a sense of fun: Siegel and her supporting cast don’t hold back their own enjoyment of putting this collection together. That clearly is one of A Thousand Beautiful Things.
Visit Janis Siegel on the web.
By Woodrow Wilkins Jr.
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