Give Herb Alpert credit. As one of the most successful musician/entrepreneurs in music history, he could easily kick back in his ocean-side compound, paint his paintings, make his sculptures and play some trumpet on the side, just for fun.
But no. Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall still seem compelled to put it all out there, to make new records, play new music and go out on the road. It’s not exactly the way they were doing it back in the ‘60s, when Alpert was leading the hit-making, chart-topping Tijuana Brass, and Hall was singing with the similarly popular Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. But it’s still very different from simply settling into the luxurious leisure life that is so available to them.
And they appear to be digging every onstage minute. On Sunday night, while the rest of the music world was focusing on the Grammys, Herb and Lani were at Alpert’s Bel Air jazz room, Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., enthusiastically playing their first gig in a cross country tour celebrating the release of their latest album, “I Feel You.” By next week around this time, they’ll be performing in Lincoln Center’s Allen Room.
They opened with a funk-driven take on “Besame Mucho,” with the rhythm team of Bill Cantos, piano, Hussain Jiffry, bass and Michael Shapiro, drums laying down a sizzling propulsion that promised (and delivered) good tidings for the rest of the program.
The next few tunes – “Call Me,” “Fever” among them – underscored the premise that energizes Alpert and Hall’s music: the desire to find unique, contemporary interpretations of a full range of familiar pop material.
By the time they got to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “Black Magic,” “Blackbird” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” the recipe for that musical banquet was was clear. It started with Alpert’s wispy, atmospheric trumpet sounds, sometimes played open, sometimes channeled through Miles Davis-like muted tones. Add to that Cantos harmonically subtle backing, occasionally blended with his laid-back vocals the electrifying scat singing, Jiffry’s on-the-mark bass lines and Shapiro’s multi-layered percussive rhythms. All of it providing a loving embrace for Hall’s mesmerizing vocals – soaring smoothly through touching ballads, briskly swinging rhythm tunes and utterly convincing bossa novas.
It’s a recipe that works well. So well, in fact, that it provided convincing evidence as to why Herb Alpert, who already has three university music schools named after him, still feels the drive to get out there and do it all again. And why so many listeners are so delighted to have him do precisely that.
Photos by Bonnie Perkinson.