Down in Birdland

The Manhattan Transfer

1992: Rhino R2 71053

Disc One:

  1. Trickle Trickle
  2. Gloria
  3. Operator
  4. Helpless
  5. Ray’s Rockhouse
  6. Heart’s Desire [Live Version]
  7. Zindy Lou
  8. Mystery
  9. Baby Come Back to Me (The Morse Code of Love)
  10. Route 66
  11. Java Jive
  12. Chanson d’Amour
  13. Foreign Affair
  14. Smile Again
  15. Spice of Life
  16. The Speak Up Mambo (Cuentame)
  17. Soul Food To Go / Sina
  18. So You Say / Esquinas
  19. Boy from New York City
  20. Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone

Disc Two:

  1. Four Brothers
  2. Blee Blop Blues
  3. Candy
  4. A Gal in Calico
  5. Love for Sale
  6. On a Little Street in Singapore
  7. Tuxedo Junction
  8. That Cat Is High
  9. Body and Soul
  10. Meet Benny Bailey
  11. Sing Joy Spring
  12. To You
  13. Down South Camp Meetin’
  14. Until I Met You (Corner Pocket)
  15. Why Not! (Manhattan Carnival)
  16. Another Night in Tunisia
  17. Capim
  18. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
  19. Birdland

I don’t really like to explore artists’ works through best-of collections, but with the Manhattan Transfer I knew I wasn’t going to be a big fan of all of their stuff just because I liked some of it very much: their range is just too vast and varied for that to be even a likelihood. Before acquiring this set, I primarily knew them for three things: the stunningly gem-studded Extensions album, the not-so-stellar but still interesting Brasil one, and certainly their killer single “Boy from New York City,” which I had heard on the radio when it came out, back in the early 1980s, and which had quite impressed me (even though, let’s be honest, that is one massively superficial song on all levels, redeemed only by the MT’s brilliant arrangement and performance). (Also a couple of others I’d been introduced to by friends but which hadn’t compelled me to dive deeper.)

This collection introduced me to a few of their many “directions” or exploration areas via roughly representative tracks, and boy do those make for a hit-or-miss array. In the Hit category of material I hadn’t heard, there’s solid stuff such as “Operator,” in which Janis Siegel belts it out of the park (her buildup to the ending is just amazing) and &147;Why Not! (Manhattan Carnival)” and, in some ways, “Four Brothers,” which gave me a taste of their 1940s capabilities.

But then there are the Definitely Misses tracks, such as “Candy” “Chanson d’Amour,” and “Smile Again.” If I thought a whole album would be like any of those, I would never have listened to it. So there’s the value of compilations, I guess.

Other non-Extensions favorites of mine here are “Zindy Lou,” “Ray’s Rockhouse,” “Java Jive” (which I had encountered previously and still think is the beans), “That Cat Is High,” and probably “Blee Blop Blues.” The Brasil tracks, well, I’m not keen on them but I appreciate them, I guess you could say. And “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is always a fun challenge to sing along with, albeit not as challenging as their amazingly effortless-sounding-and-practically-impossible arrangement of “Body and Soul.”