The Manhattan Transfer-Vocalese Live 1986 (1986)

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Released 9-Mar-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Main Menu Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Notes-Concert Info
Notes-Notes And Facts
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 79:48 (Case: 98)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Bud Schaetzle

Warner Vision
Starring Tim Hauser
Alan Paul
Cheryl Bentyne
Janis Siegel
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Recorded in 1986 as part of their big ‘Vocalese’ tour (in the wake of a Grammy award for the album of the same name), this DVD of The Manhattan Transfer performing live in Japan is a reasonably good showcase of their talents and the structure of their concerts.

     The Transfer is a vocal quartet consisting of Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul and Cheryl Bentyne, and while their initial influences appear to be The Hi-Lo’s and similar vocal groups of the 1950s, over time the group has won kudos from the jazz community for their excursions into ‘vocalese’ (singing famous jazz instrumental lines with lyrics which cleverly fit the often complex rhythms and harmonic structures), their often obscure choices for vocal harmonies, and the impeccable scatting of Janis Siegel. However, they have also been known to sing more straightforward pop numbers, and have even scored a mainstream hit with Chanson d’Amor, probably their best-known number (at least here in Australia).

     Much of this concert is devoted to the material from the Transfer’s 1985 Vocalese album, which features music by jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie and Woody Herman, and new lyrics written by the master of vocalese lyrics, Jon Hendricks. These numbers are impeccably performed for the most part, although unfortunately the miking is not the best and the mix is somewhat muddy at times (see the audio section of the review for more details).

     About halfway through the concert, there is a marked change of pace and atmosphere, as the Transfer move into “greatest hits” territory, with numbers that are markedly easier to sing. Songs like On the Boulevard, Java Jive and How High the Moon may be more “feelgood” material, but after the vocal complexities of the earlier part of the show, they seem a bit of a comedown. It might have been a better move to reorganise the setlist and intersperse the (then) newer material with the older, instead of having pretty well all the vocalese numbers in the earlier part of the show. I do have a feeling that some Transfer fans might be inclined to skip the second half of the program.

     Also worthy of mention is the staging efforts that have gone into the performance, with clever lighting, a few setpieces and many costume changes designed to evoke certain moods (or at least get the audience’s attention). To my mind this detracts from the performance rather than enhancing it – I don’t think performers of the Transfer’s calibre need to run around the stage or wear eyecatching gear. Their voices are and should be enough for anyone.

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Track Listing

1. Four Brothers
2. Rambo
3. Meet Benny Bailey
4. Airegin
5. To You
6. Sing Joy Spring
7. Move
8. That's Killer Joe
9. The Duke Of Dubuque
10. Gloria
11. Heat's Desire
12. Birdland
13. On The Boulevard
14. Shaker Song
15. Java Jive
16. Blue Champagne
17. How High The Moon
18. Boy From New York City
19. Ray's Rockhouse

Transfer Quality


     This is a very basic transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.29:1, obviously not 16x9 enhanced.

     The video quality of this transfer betrays the age of the source material (1986) and its made-for-TV nature. Shot on videotape in Japan, the image is extremely flat and not particularly sharp. There are occasional instances of comet trails as is typical with videotaped concerts from this era. Shadow detail is somewhat muddy, as you would expect, however there was no detectable low-level noise. Colours were rather muted and not particularly true-to-life.

     It’s quite likely that most fans of the group, who are watching the DVD primarily to hear the music, will be perfectly satisfied by the quality of the video. There is no grain or MPEG artefacting to speak of and no disturbing artefacts. Typically for a Warner Music Vision release, the transfer is perfectly serviceable while not improving on the previous VHS release (although some minor digital enhancement may have been done).

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The audio is rather disappointing. A very basic 2.0 Dolby stereo mix, this would have greatly benefited from a 5.1 remix, assuming the source materials were available to do so. As stated earlier the miking of the concert is disappointing, as the harmonies often sound muddied, with far less clarity than is the case in the Transfer’s studio recordings. On the plus side, there were no problems with audio sync.

     While acceptable as a live concert recording from the 1980s, fans should be aware that this is nowhere near the quality of the Transfer’s live album from the same tour, nor anywhere near as good as their recent Hotter than Ever live album.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     Aside from the static main menu, which I really wouldn't classify as an extra, the extras are confined to some written notes which appear onscreen under the headings of Concert Info (where and when held, and the fact that the concert was part of the Vocalese tour), Biography (background on the four singers) and Title-by-Title.

     This last extra, which supposedly is a list of songs featured and the names of their composers, was not properly navigable on either of my two DVD players. It continually displayed the first song despite attempts to scroll through to the remainders.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R1 version appears to be identical to ours.


    A fair record of one of the world’s premier vocal quartets at work during the height of their powers, Vocalese Live is a strong performance captured on not particularly sharp video and complemented by very basic Dolby 2.0 audio. While fans will undoubtedly enjoy watching the DVD, a 5.1 remix would certainly have been appreciated.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Alex Paige (read my bio)
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-2200 (NTSC/PAL Progessive), using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX-76PW60. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to Amplifier.
AmplificationSony STR-DB940
SpeakersFronts: B&W DM309; Rears: B&W DM303; Centre: B&W LCR3; Subwoofer: B&W ASW300.

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