As we make our way into Englewood, NJ’s beautiful BergenPAC auditorium for a rare New Jersey appearance by the iconic trumpeter Herb Alpert and singer Lani Hall this Wednesday, April 25, 2018, we come upon Louis and Carolyn from New York City and chat with them about tonight’s show.
Explains Louis, “When a lot of people retire, they take up yoga or attend classes, but we go to concerts every week,” before exclaiming, “and we’ve been looking forward to seeing Herb Alpert and Lani Hall for a very long time!”
Acknowledging, “Herb Alpert doesn’t play out that often these days, so this concert is special,” Louis tells us about some of the other performances that he and his wife, Carolyn, have seen recently including Patti LuPone, Itzhak Perlman, Jon Bon Jovi, Jim Messina, and Alice Cooper,” stating, “We really like this theater. We’re from New York City but we’ll drive to Jersey because this venue is close and it’s beautiful — plus, all the people who work here are really nice!”
Concluding by revealing, “We’re really looking forward to seeing Herb Alpert tonight — his music was always there while I was growing up; it was like a soundtrack to my life,” Louis asks Carolyn if she agrees, and she readily admits, “I’m a big fan of the Tijuana Brass,” before declaring, “I hope he’ll play ‘Tijuana Taxi!’”
Inside the auditorium, we also chat with Linn and Karen from Mahwah. Reveals Lin, “I’ve been a fan of Herb Alpert ever since he was with the Tijuana Brass — I grew up listening to his music and I still have many of his albums on LP.”
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Karen agrees adding, “It’s funny, but I was on YouTube recently listening to Sérgio Mendes and Brazil ’66 and I discovered that Lani Hall was one of the singers in that group. As a result, I did a little research and found out they were performing here at BergenPAC, so we decided to get tickets and come tonight!”
Concludes Lin with a laugh, “That’s right — this way, we get to see both Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, which is like getting a double bang for the buck!”
The lights dim and a video is projected on a large screen at the back of the stage which features Louis Armstrong and a soundtrack recording of Herb Alpert playing Armstrong’s uplifting song, “What A Wonderful World,” on the trumpet in a unique world music-style arrangement.
Filled with images of a variety of instruments, animals, and smiling faces from all over the planet, the video flashes messages like “Be Kind,” “Be Honest,” and “Help the Unfortunate.” On the recording, Herb and a children’s choir sing, “What a — what a wonderful world” — the video ending with a short film clip of the two smiling friends and trumpet masters: Herb Alpert and Louis Armstrong.
Following large applause, Alpert’s back-up musicians — Michael Shapiro on drums, Hussain Jiffry on bass, and Bill Santos on piano/keyboards — take their places behind their respective instruments and, then, dancing their way onto the stage to a standing ovation come Herb Alpert and his wife, Lani Hall.
Taking their seats, the audience drinks in every note of the ensemble’s first number — “What Now My Love” — Alpert’s younger cool and detached trumpet tone now sounding warmer, rounder, and more emotionally stirring on this highly rhythmic world-music-influenced arrangement.
With the screen behind him showing examples of his visual art acumen, Alpert and the band segue into a highly rhythmic up-tempo funk arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” As Lani Hall’s vocals ask, “Why? Why?” harmony background vocals and Santos’ keyboard sound effects add to the overall ethereal effect of Alpert’s ultra-cool arrangement of this King of Pop classic.
Moving on to Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” Alpert’s trumpet melody dances as he leads the musicians through the number before Hall joins them with her interpretative vocal — jazzy and mellow, exciting and fresh. On this Latin/hip-hop arrangement, the rhythm section is precise and expressive and features Jiffrey’s sliding bass, Santos’ thoughtful piano chords and runs, and Shapiro rhythmically slapping his drum sticks on the rims of his drums. As all three instrumentalists play off one another, Alpert, 83, solos around them filling the stage — and the auditorium — with his distinctive brass sound.
Next up is a number which was originally recorded by Sérgio Mendes and Brazil ’66 entitled “O Pato.” As the onscreen art changes to a background filled with warm colors to match her expressive and resonant voice, Hall gives a skillful and lovely performance of this bouncy Brazilian bossa number.
Following avid applause, Hall takes a sip of water before announcing, “Cheers!” and Alpert takes over the microphone stating, “Tonight will be very informal — let us know what you are thinking.”
As one excited fan immediately yells out, “You’re a genius!” Alpert coolly replies, “Wait till you hear the music before you judge it.”
Acknowledging “I’ve been painting for 49 years — acrylic on canvas,” Alpert reveals that the artwork the audience is currently viewing onscreen is entitled “Waltz.” When an audience member happily shouts out, “How much?” without missing a beat, Herb responds with “Make me an offer.”
Revealing about the group’s next number, “I’m going to disguise it for a while — and then you’ll recognize it,” Alpert and company perform a unique rendition of “Besame Mucho.” Featuring a funk bass with a backbeat emphasized by the drums, Santos’ piano echoes Alpert’s brassy trumpet — the two complimenting one another as they wind their way through the composition. Capturing the audience with their playful rhythms, Alpert manages to conduct the instrumentalists as he simultaneously plays his trumpet. Following audience cheers, Alpert takes a seat and spotlights Hall who gives her own sultry spin on the number, expertly accompanied by Hussein Jeffry who plays chords on his bass just like a guitarist!
One of many highlights of tonight’s performance is a medley of songs made famous by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
As images of a younger Herb and Lani fill the screen, Alpert and the band put a modern spin on such classics as “Rise,” Whipped Cream,” “The Lonely Bull,” “Spanish Flea,” “Tijuana Taxi,” and “A Taste of Honey” — all bringing back sweet memories to the smiling BergenPAC crowd.
As the audience cheers, Alpert opines, “The good old days!,” adding “Music is like deja vu — it has tremendous power,” concluding, “If you like to hear it, we like to play it!”
At this point, Alpert invites the entire audience to join him in singing his 1968 #1 hit, “This Guy’s in Love with You.” As the crowd happily takes this vocal trip down memory lane with Alpert — everyone singing with feeling — he concludes by commenting “Beautiful!” at the end of the piece.
After explaining that Hall was a member of Sérgio Mendes and Brazil ’66 — a group which boasted a “hybrid sound” featuring elements of “classical, jazz, Brazilian, pop, and African music” — Alpert reveals that he and that group’s lead singer, Lani Hall, have been happily married now for 44 years.
Following warm applause, Hall, 72, tells a story about sitting out on her back porch with her father and watching the night sky. Here, she sings Carole King’s “Up On the Roof,” bringing new meaning to this time honored song and making it personal and artistic with just her voice and a piano.
Sounding full and mellow, a video of a star flashes on the screen behind Hall after she sings.
Segueing into one of Sérgio Mendes and Brazil ’66’s biggest hits, “The Look of Love,” wedding photos of Lani and Herb appear on the screen. Sounding as young and vibrant as ever, Hall performs a medley of Sérgio Mendes and Brazil ’66 songs including “Upa Nequinho,” “Fool on the Hill,” and the infectious “Mas Que Nada,” Alpert joining in on the final number, his trumpet adding a brassy flavor to the tune’s upbeat Latin groove.
A New Orleans jazz feel permeates “On the Sunny Side of the Street” where Shapiro tap dances with his sticks on the rims of his drums until Jiffrey’s bass and Santos’ piano join in the action and bring another layer of varying timbres to accompany Alpert’s improvised trumpet work.
Dedicating the next song to his friend, Beatle George Harrison, Alpert and band present a jazzy version of “Something” where Shapiro uses brushes on the drums and Alpert’s trumpet swings. Following up with yet another Beatles’ gem, Alpert’s warm, round, and expressive tone is featured on Paul McCartney’s “Michelle.”
As soon as Hall introduces the next number, “Dreamer,” the crowd applauds for the tune’s composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Singing and playing this warm and soulful bossa — trading the spotlight back and forth — Alpert and Hall watch each other perform with admiration as Jiffey — a native of Sri Lanka — continues to impress the crowd by playing his bass like a guitar.
Taking a short break, a pre-recorded reggae trumpet version of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” plays while a heartfelt video comprised of images of trumpet lovers and couples in love from all over the world appears on the screen.
Following enthusiastic applause, Alpert and Hall return to the stage. As Hall sings “Bye Bye Blackbird,” Jiffrey walks up and down on his bass before Shapiro and Santos join in on the drums and piano. Then, the group shifts to an electronic rhythmic soundscape for a modern-day rendition of “Begin the Beguine.” As Hall and Shapiro happily play shakers together, the arrangement’s rhythmic percussion part contrasts nicely with Alpert’s interpretive and flowing melody.
Yet another highlight of the show is the ensemble’s performance of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Once Lani Hall finishes handling the lead, Bill Santos takes over on vocals and solos on the piano, taking the song in a new and amazing direction — at times, singing in his falsetto voice. As Hall watches with approval, Santos scat sings while simultaneously harmonizing his vocal solo with chords on the piano. The crowd applauds for this novel musical treat, before Alpert joins in on the trumpet and Hall returns to finish the number to the audience’s sheer delight.
To wrap up the evening’s festivities, Alpert and Hall perform a live hip-hop musical soundtrack to the duo’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” music video which flashes on the screen behind them. A lip-dub-influenced production, Alpert discloses that the entire video — featuring a troupe of talented dancers in addition to Alpert himself, who appears as a bus driver, a barber, and a bartender — was filmed without a single edit! Ending with a kiss between Alpert and Hall, the crowd stands and cheers for this totally entertaining performance!
Responds Alpert, “I hope you remember the feeling you got tonight! We try to put out that energy out there for you!”
As the audience continues to clap and cheer, Alpert, Hall, and company perform an encore of an Antonio Carlos Jobim medley of songs including “Wave,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “The Waters of March,” “Dindi,” and “One Note Samba,” with Hall and Alpert having an absolute blast while singing and playing up a storm!
As audience members make their way out of the theater, we chat with several in attendance who share their opinions of tonight’s performance with us.
First, we chat with Margaret from Connecticut who exclaims, “This show was wonderful; I could have listened all night!” before stating, “The first thing I’m going to do when I get home is to check and see where they are performing next!”
Adding, “My husband and I drove all the way from Connecticut for this concert — and it was so worth it!” Margaret remarks, “Lani Hall was outrageous and Herb Alpert is a genius! They’re so affectionate and they are so beautiful, and I especially loved their outstanding performance of ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz!’”
Next, we chat with Corey from the Bronx who calls Alpert and Hall’s performance tonight “Excellent,” stating, “I even enjoyed the new stuff more than the old stuff!”
Recalling, “I was a kid when my dad brought home the Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass album, Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” Corey reveals, “I was about seven at the time and I even remember writing Herb Alpert a fan letter asking him if he might be available to play at my Bar Mitzvah in November, 1971!”
Lastly, we chat with Ann from Englewood who exclaims, “What a talented couple Herb Alpert and Lani Hall are! I definitely felt their energy, and it really moved me how their love exploded throughout their performance tonight!”
For further information about Herb Alpert, please go to herbalpert.com. To find out more about Lani Hall, please click on lanihallalpert.com. Lastly, for more on future performances at BergenPAC — including Close to You: The Music of the Carpenters on June 1, Remembering John Denver starring Ted Vigil on August 7, and Engelbert Humperdinck on October 12 — please go to bergenpac.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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