40th anniversaries are no longer a rarity in popular music, but they’re usually accompanied by some degree of acrimony — manifested in public sniping, separate buses and the like. But as they commemorate that milestone, the Manhattan Transfer haven’t aired a shred of dirty laundry and — as evidenced at the first night of their Gotham stand — seem every bit as enthusiastic about their musical collaboration as they were decades ago.
Playing a venue that often brings out the more affected facets of most artists, the quartet acted as if they were treading the boards of an old-school jazz club. Each of the members played to their particular vocal strengths, but just as importantly, each showcased a singular personality — from the deadpan stylings of founder Tim Hauser to the coltish giddiness of Cheryl Bentyne, who looked as thrilled when one of her bandmates seized upon a successful riff as when she did so herself.
There were plenty of winning notes in the 80-minute perf — Janis Siegel’s wide-eyed lead vocal on “A Tisket, A Tasket” and a slinky, low-slung take on “Route 66” among them — but none more captivating than the interludes where they brought out their octogenarian mentor Joe Hendricks to harmonize, and take a few leads of his own. Hendricks has changed his vocal range a bit, naturally enough, but his phrasing and cadence are still razor-sharp, notably on a spry version of “Gimme That Wine,” a tune he popularized as one-third of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
The Transfer touched on their recent Four Quarters release “The Chick Corea Songbook” in a three-song mini-set keyed by a wending “Spain” suite, and picked up considerable steam at set’s end, with Bentyne delivering a knockout lead on Gilberto Gil-Tracy Mann’s gorgeous “Hear the Voices.” By the time they wrapped things up with their take on “Birdland,” it was easy to believe one had actually been transported back to that hallowed hall.