Live reviews

Reviews and dispatches from Montreal #FIJM 2022 (10): The Manhattan Transfer and Clay and Friends

The Manhattan Transfer / Clay and Friends

(Theatre Maisonneuve (TMT) and Scene TD /Place des festivals (C&F). 7 July 2022. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.


Clay and Friends and the crowd. Photo credit Benoit Rousseau

This is a tale of me wanting to experience the kind of total contrast here that FIJM can offer: two totally different musical experiences on offer on the same evening, and within just a couple of hundred feet of each other.

The first concert was indoors in front of a paying audience, mostly of the older generation, whereas the second was outdoors in front of a VAST young crowd who are admitted free. And whereas the first protagonists are…how does one put this delicately…? not exactly young… the second band don’t as far as I am aware reveal their ages, but I’m guessing..early thirties and they certainly attract a young audience.

The Manhattan Transfer. Photo credit Victor Diaz Lamich/FIJM

First, then, The Manhattan Transfer at the Theatre Maisonneuve. The group is in the middle of celebrations to mark its fiftieth year. I don’t quite get the maths of that, because several sources have the year of foundation as 1969. I guess it’s not really important….

I started to compare TMT with the Swingles who were founded in 1962, and to remind myself how far vocal standards have improved in fifty years. Whereas the Swingles have systematically recruited younger singers, allowed their performance tradition to be challenged by new upstart voices, the line-up of The Manhattan Transfer has been more or less constant for decades. Not completely. When Cheryl Bentyne had incredibly serious health issues in the 2000s it was inevitable that she should go away. But then, after an inspiring recovery, she came back. A story of resilience and courage and defiance. Yes, absolutely, bring it on.

Bur here’s the rub. Put on a video from 1991, yes three decades ago HERE, and three of the singers who appeared then…are still here. OK, it is not fair to make groups compete with their own past, but I watch the 1991 video and am inspired by the way they were “going for it”, setting themselves challenges with totally focused energy. Do they, can they still achieve that, now that the average age of the three has crept from forty to just under 70? I would say that the answer is… that they try very hard to defy the passing years, and must be saluted for that.

Janis Siegel is a unique figure in jazz and can mouth-trumpet brilliantly. Alan Paul has been a stalwart for decades and he is a constant presence. But nothing can be quite as devil-may-care as it once was . I need to say that this is a curmudgeonly minority view from one seat. The audience absolutely loved this show. The cheers for “Birdland” almost lifted the roof.

= o = o = o = o = o

Mike Clay. Photo Benoit Rousseau/FIJM

Clay and Friends

And then out into the crowd. Call me a fool but I do like a “bain de foule”. Someone has called Clay and Friends “fun-loving funky pop” which just about gets it.

Surely somewhere in our hearts we all have a place for that. Someone is going to complain about what the hell they are doing at a jazz festival, but I would counter-argue that you need to have experienced the warmth the encouragement coming from that Thursday night Montreal crowd, you need to see and feel the way several thousand people need no encouragement whatsoever to obey Clay’s simple instruction to “Bouge ton thang”.

Mike Clay certainly has charisma. His main musical partners in crime are Adel “Poolboy” Kazi  and Clément “Pops” Langlois-Légaré (sic) and they all just enjoy themselves and work hard to communicate that to the crowd. I was curious that for the part of the gig I heard, they were mostly sticking to short song forms. rather than ever stretching out instrumentals. They certainly know what the crowd want, and how to deliver it.

Categories: Live reviews

Leave a Reply