Herb Alpert, forever remembered for Tijuana Brass, informs audiences at the Café Carlyle in his booking there (February 28-March 10), along with his wife of 38 years, singer Lani Hall, that they will be doing some scrambling of songs to be different. And scrambling they do. But not mangling. They can take a standard like Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” give it their own staccato-style twist, and make it spiritedly enjoyable, not a desecration. Together, backed by excellent musicians who appear to be having just as much fun performing, Alpert and Hall come across as a couple of cool cats giving the audience a good time with deceptive ease as they dispense their well-honed expertise.
The tone is established at the outset with “Bésame Mucho.” Michael Shapiro is on drums and percussion, Bill Cantos is on piano and keyboards and Hussain Jiffry is on electric bass. Alpert stresses that there is much improvising, including what he does with his trusty trumpet and inimitable style.
Hall first regales us with the tongue-twisting “Para-Raio,” and throughout the show her style blends with the fresh musical interpretations of an array of well-known hits. She and her husband reflect the unity and ease of their long performing and personal relationship and their show is a delight. Alpert sings a bit with his casual, non-singing voice—doing so without pretense—and he is fond of feeding the audience background information. At the performance I saw, he was going on too long at one point, and Hall gently prodded that it was time to play and sing something.
It was a pleasure listing to Hall do numbers that included “The Look of Love,” “Moondance,” “Fever,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” all with very individual interpretations. It is likewise when Alpert does his thing with his trumpet and musical crew, as with “The Trolley Song” and “Laura.” The effect is fascinating stylistically, and the individualism never gets in the way of the originals as sometimes happens when others ruin old favorites with their determination to be different.
The show concludes with a bit of Alpert mischief as he announces “Night and Day” and then with his trumpet launches into “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” But he does deliver “Night and Day,” playfully capping it again with the number from “Fiddler.” Such antics all add up to overall enjoyment as provded by Alpert, Hall and his band of accomplices. At the Café Carlyle, The Hotel Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street (at Madison Avenue). Phone: 212-744-1600. .