As one quarter of The Manhattan Transfer for one quarter of a century, Cheryl Bentyne’s identity has merged with that of the now-famous group that she joined in 1979, as have those of the other members (despite Janis Siegel’s occasional forays into her own ventures or her duos with Fred Hersch). But now, Bentyne, the soprano contributing to the uniqueness of The Manhattan Transfer’s landmark versions of "Meet Benny Bailey" or "Another Night in Tunisia," has joined Siegel in joining Telarc.
Much of the credit for the success of Talk of the Town
extends to producer Corey Allen, who put together for Bentyne what he considered to be a dream band consisting of entirely compatible musicians: Kenny Barron, David "Fathead" Newman, Chuck Mangione, John Patitucci, Lewis Nash and two members of Take 6. It appears that Bentyne’s intentions were to sing an album of standards, allowing her to relax over the cushion laid down by the rhythm section. But Allen made her stretch. Despite Bentyne’s initial reluctance, he convinced her to sing Annie Ross’ lyrics to Art Farmer’s bebopping tune, "Farmer’s Market." As a result, it becomes one of the most entertaining songs on the CD as it recalls Bentyne’s sometimes tongue-twisting work with The Manhattan Transfer and breaks loose the musicians to have their fun with the song as well.
Other standouts include tracks on which Bentyne is joined by other guests, especially Allen’s arrangement of Neal Hefti’s "Girl Talk," on which she is backed by Mark Kibble and Alvin Chea, fairly astounding the listener with the richness of their harmonizing, considering that only two singers are creating the choral effect behind Bentyne’s knowing version of the song. Chuck Mangione drops in on "They Can’t Take That Away from Me," primarily (1) because Allen had backed up Mangione on piano as part of the flugelhornist’s band and (2) because Allen visualized Mangione’s headwear when Bentyne sang "The way you wear your hat." As a result, Mangione weaves lines around Bentyne’s singing of the lyrics with fluid ease, as if the flugelhorn were another voice in duet. There’s David "Fathead" Newman, who’s as natural commenting upon Bentyne’s phrasing as was Houston Person’s famous work with Etta Jones. And the rock-solid rhythm section locks in on every track. Kenny Barron’s work, sounding familiar from his work on dozens of vocalists’ albums, glistens with illuminating chord changes that confirm his status as one of the most gifted accompanists in jazz, not to mention his ability to take off in unexpected directions when he solos, as he does on "The Meaning of the Blues."
Surrounded by excellence, Bentyne rises above the energizing environment to develop her own takes upon the material included on the CD, from the surging Latin arrangement of "It Might As Well Be Spring" to the gorgeousness of "The Very Thought Of You." Now that she has temporarily stepped away from The Manhattan Transfer for the recording of her own song stylings, Cheryl Bentyne has again stepped into her own dream of recording the music she enjoys and infusing it with her own personality.