Saturday, January 30, 2010

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall - Still Swingin'

It was a thrill to get a chance to see Herb Alpert in concert, having grown up listening to my parents' Tijuana Brass albums and having a ton of nostalgia for the Whipped Cream album in particular (see an earlier Ape Culture story on our recollections of growing up with that mysteriously sexy album in our otherwise Christian homes).


I was not familiar with the work of his wife Lani Hall, but she has had an amazing career in her own right, including performing with Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66. I discovered she has a great voice and the two of them have adorable chemistry on stage. Joining Hall and Alpert were piano player Bill Cantos, bass player Hussein Jiffry, and drummer Michael Shapiro. They were a tight band but also did a fair amount of improvisation.

Early in the set, Herb commented on how oddly intimate Walt Disney Hall felt, how he could see most of the audience's faces. He then encouraged the audience to yell out questions and comments, but not requests. This led to some chaos that continued throughout the night with comments ranging from one woman who asked how he and Lani got together and then proceeded to tell the story herself since she must have read it somewhere (why do people ask questions when they know the answers?), to a woman wanting to know if Herb graduated from Fairfax High (yes, and his good high school friend was the late Jack Kemp who he said was one of the only gentiles there), to someone asking who his favorite A&M Records (his label) artist was - Tijuana Brass of course!

Sergio Mendes was in the house! Herb gave a shout out to him. Too bad they didn't jam together.

Herb has always been criticized by "serious" jazz artists for being too pop. With this combo, he tries to get away from playing the Tijuana Brass tunes and play more jazz, but it's still mostly bossanova stuff and standards. It's light jazz at best. Still, I found it to be a very enjoyable concert.

Lani Hall has an excellent voice and can handle the Brazilian songs with aplomb. She has great command of the language. They did standards by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Johnny Mercer. Herb stated that he found Porter to be very relevant today and implored us to listen to the lyrics of "Anything Goes" (title cut from his 2009 Album with Hall). They slowed down "That Old Black Magic" and came up with a sexy version.

Herb is 74 now and doesn't look like a heartthrob anymore. His hair is gray and he has Nicholson pattern baldness. Lani looked a lot like my therapist which was a bit hard for me to get over. However, the two of them are clearly in love and have a playfulness about them that was fun to watch. My friend joked that they were like two high school kids who had to end the show quickly so they could go backstage and make out. Herb sang "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face" to Lani, and it was a sweet moment. He ended the song with a few notes from "This Guy's in Love with You" which was a perfect end note to a somewhat lovably awkward moment (Like Burt Bacharach who wrote "This Guy's in Love with You", Herb doesnt have a great voice but there is something warm about the way he sings, which he rarely does).

The crowd went nuts for a Tijuana Brass medley that featured snippets of "A Taste of Honey", "The Lonely Bull" and other pop chestnuts. I would have loved to have heard more of this stuff, but I respect that he's got to do his current thing.

This event finally gave me an opportunity to see Walt Disney Concert Hall, and I have to say I was really impressed with the acoustics. It does kind of feel like LA has its own Sydney Opera House. The interior has similar swooping lines, and smooth wood, without feeling as chaotic as the outside of the building would lead you to expect. The pipes from the pipe organ jut out in all directions, but everything else is smooth. We were sitting behind the stage, which wasn't ideal. The sound was fine, but we got tired of looking at the back of Herb's and Lani's heads. We had good views of the drummer and the piano player, but it would have been nice if Herb and Lani could have played to the back a bit more. Oh well - life in the cheap seats.

The encore was a medley of Jobim songs which put a swingin' coda on a great evening. He even threw in a few notes of "Spanish Flea" for fans of The Dating Game. I definitely recommend you catch the show if it comes around. My only disappointment was that I didn't see anyone in the crowd dressed in whipped cream.

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