Review: ‘Herb Alpert and Lani Hall’

Alpert's jazz roots have emerged into full view with a show featuring his wife, Lani Hall.

Herb Alpert’s inner jazzman has always been integrated within something more significant: a haunting, personal trumpet signature riding atop a melange of American and/or Latin components. Yet lately, his jazz roots have finally emerged into full view with a new CD, “Anything Goes” (Concord Jazz), and an intimately-scaled show with Alpert’s wife, singer Lani Hall, and a small combo.

“Anything Goes” is a multiple landmark for Alpert – his first mainstream jazz album, his first album of any kind in 10 years, his first entire album with Hall (although they had collaborated in bits and pieces many times over the decades) and his first for a label that he did not co-own.

The whole project sprouted from an emotional guest shot that Alpert and Hall made with Hall’s former employer, Sergio Mendes, at the Hollywood Bowl in June 2006 –  which led to some casual gigs that were recorded for the album, and then this tour, which concluded in Arizona over the weekend.

The concert was booked on Disney Hall’s Songbook Series rather than its Jazz Series, but the heading made sense, as “Anything Goes” – which provided the bulk of the material for the show — is mostly an anthology of standards from the U.S. and Brazil. The Alperts’ arrangements often went against the predictable grain that we usually hear in these songs – like the desperation that Hall finds in “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” or Alpert’s refreshing, finger-popping deconstruction of “Till There Was You” and fast-samba treatment of “Laura.” Hall also shined in some evergreens from her Brasil ’66 days, her Portuguese still nimble and clear.

From a jazz perspective, Alpert never sounded as liberated as he does now. He gave himself lots of room to stretch out, alternating between muted and open horn, finding his heartiest swinging grooves in the Brazilian material. Yet he still exerts a lot of control over pacing and structure, conducting and cueing of his jazz piano trio.

Inevitably, Alpert’s astonishing 1960s run with the Tijuana Brass came up; it had to, for Alpert was encouraging questions from the audience, and they were ready. Yet Alpert’s way of dealing with the past is not unlike that of Bob Dylan – treating hits like “The Lonely Bull,” “Tijuana Taxi” and “A Taste Of Honey” to radical re-arrangements – and he sprinkled quotes from other TJB favorites like “If I Were a Rich Man” and “What Now My Love” into the Brazilian-ized “Night and Day.”

For Alpert – who usually follows Satchel Paige’s trenchant line, “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you” – this was one way of doing something new while acknowledging history. And even in a large – and in this case, over-reverberant – performance space like Disney Hall, the show went over beautifully Friday night.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall, 2,265 seats, $38-$99


Presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. Performers: Herb Alpert, Lani Hall, Bill Cantos, Hussain Jiffry, Michael Shapiro. Reviewed January 29, 2010.
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