Three ladies of Manhattan transfer to Les Zygomates
by Matthew S. Robinson
On April 6, a hot new girl group hit Boston, bringing the sweet sounds of the Big Apple to Beantown. The group was called Moxie, and with good reason, for these three ladies combined enough spirit, spunk and expertise to fill all of Manhattan. In fact, they have!
Laurel Masse and Janet Siegel were the original female half of the Grammy Award-winning vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer. When a near fatal car accident sidelined Masse, recent Mass. import Cheryl Bentyne took up the torch singing some of the Great American Songbooks swingingest songs. Now, for the first time ever, the ladies of Manhattan Transfer will get off at South Station for a weekend of MT classics and contemporary favorites at Les Zygomates. For Bentyne, this tour represents a return to the Leather District’s favorite wine bar.
| Moxie @ Les Zygomates, Boston, MA 4/6/2001
Having defined the metaphor for contemporary jazz vocalizations, the women of Manhattan Transfer took their own show on the road for a debut weekend stand at Boston’s hottest bistro/listening room. From the tenored tenor of Vaudeville to the Yellowjacket-ed strains of smooth jazz, these two pair of partners made for a terrific trio. Cheryl Bentyne conducted with her entire body and soul while Laurel Masse sang a cello piece by Bach and forever member Janis Siegel offered some of the best mouthed mute trumpet lines to be heard for Miles.
Combining the Boswell Sisters with the Pointer Sisters, the ladies of Moxie swayed and laughed through alternating solo sets and group efforts that displayed both individual talents and newly-discovered collaborative strengths. Among the most notable high points were Bentyne’s animated Latinate lump of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” Laurel’s appropraite and uproarious Frenglish hip-shaker “Language of Love” and Siegel’s Streisand-y “Witchcraft” and well-titled “Tender Trap.” Though no major tour is planned, the boys of Manhattanmight want to consider their own side project, as they may need to find other work for a while.
“Last year, we presented the world premier of Cheryl’s Cole Porter revue,” recalled Les Zygomates General Manager Lorenzo Savona, noting that Bentyne’s stellar solo shot inaugurated the bistro’s Jazz Side Cabaret Series.
“I had gone to the restaurant a number of times,” Bentyne explained, “and when Lorenzo told my husband [show Producer/Arranger Corey Allen] about his ideas for the new music venue, he made me promise to be the first show.” Bentyne is very much looking forward to coming back to the bistro. “I love this place,” she said, “and there are so few good rooms in town these days.”
As for Masse, she is looking forward to singing with her stand-out stand-in. “I had been singing alone for a number of years,” Masse remembers. “I went to see Manhattan Transfer in 1997 and ended up sitting in with them.” This fateful five-part reunion would plant the seed for the terrific trio that is due to land in Boston next weekend. “Cheryl and I hit it off,” Masse recalled happily, “and the idea soon found itself in all of our female brains that we might all sound good together and we might get along – which we do and we do!”
Bentyne remembers the reunion in very similar terms. “When Laurel sat in with us at Saratoga,” she said, “we had this bizarre psychic connection and we acted on it.”
Though Bentyne and Masse had filled a similar role in the group, they had never actually met until the Saratoga show. Now they are looking forward to spending time together and getting to know each other personally and musically. “This is the first group singing I’ve done since leaving The Transfer,” Masse admitted, “and to sing with two such fabulous singers is a great experience.”
“It’s a very interesting process we’re going through,” Bentyne agreed. “It will bring me up to the plate to do my best work because these women are tremendous singers.”
As for what they will be singing (tremendously), Masse and Bentyne mention names like The Bosley Sisters and, though they are yet to find a Beatles’ song, Siegel has suggested “The Married Men” by The Roches. “This is a girl thing,” Masse maintained. “There’s something to be said for the timbre of the female voice and there are some things that just women have to sing about.” Bentyne agrees. “As we are all women,” she suggested,” we can look in different places for subject matter and range.”
Through solo spots and collaborative efforts, Moxie brought a wide variety of music to their fans and friends in Boston. “We all have different strengths,” Masse said, “but put us all together and we sound good!”
This confident sound comes from years of experience at the mike. “I was born to sing,” Masse declares. “It has always been the thing that has made me feel best.” In fact, Masse says, she did not realize that people did not sing all the time until she reached grade school. “How can you not sing?” she queried. Today, Masse helps hesitant harmonists by offering workshops across the country. “There are people who are afraid to sing,” Masse mused, “and I make it safe for them to try.”
Bentyne also got an early start in music. “My parents saw me in a high school musical,” she remembered, “and when the show was over, my mother said I didn’t know you could sing.'” As a tutor at Berklee College of Music, Sudbury-based Bentyne also helps other aspiring vocalists reach their potential (and fool their folks). “My kids are great,” Bentyne lauded, “and they help me figure out what I know and don’t know.”
One thing the women of Moxie do know is that they are ready to take a tip from another talented set of independent and entertaining women (i.e., Laverne and Shirely) and do it their way. “We’re three grown-up women who know how to do it,” Masse said, “and that’s rare!”
© 2001, M.S. Robinson, ARR