During the between-set break at the Hollywood Bowl, just after Herb Alpert and Lani Hall had finished a pretty spectacular set, a curly-haired guy with a bushy mustache who looked like he’d just stepped out of a BTO concert turned and asked, “Am I the only one that felt like that was… misrepresented?” I asked what he meant; the bill said Herb and Lani would play and they were indeed both there. “Yeah but hardly any TJB! It just seemed like he should have some more horn players!”
The pair’s hour-long set had covered multiple jazz and pop standards, with virtuosic performances from Alpert and the entire band, and stunning vocals from Hall. Coming in with no particular expectations, I got more than I hoped for. The fact that Alpert only snuck in a perfunctory six-minute medley of Tijuana Brass hits like “Whipped Cream” and “A Taste Of Honey” didn’t bother me in the least. But Mr. BTO seemed kind of rattled by it, to the point of feeling that Herb had misled him by using his OWN NAME in the advertising. That’s the kind of heavy cross one has to bear after selling 75 million albums. There’s always gonna be that guy, wanting to hear those songs.
But those who have paid attention in the recent past would know that married couple Alpert and Hall have been working as a duo since 2006, with their third release coming out this summer. The set and band arrangement felt like something that had been worked out for the clubs, with killer versions of “Pararaio” and “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” among the many highlights. “Fly Me To The Moon”, played under a nearly-full one shining bright over the Bowl’s east side, was described by Alpert as “otherworldly!” at its conclusion, and the closing medley of songs by A.C. Jobim showcased Hall’s instinctive gift for bossa nova rhythms. Alpert’s horn playing has the cool effortlessness of Chet Baker at his dreamiest, spare in his choice of notes and precise in his delivery.
Hall and Alpert first met when Hall was the singer for Sergio Mendes’ Brazil 66, which toured extensively with the Tijuana Brass and was one of A&M Records’ biggest successes. The mutual backslapping was thick all night long, especially after Mendes took the stage with his current group, which shares a rhythm section with Hall and Alpert, a trio of female singers with an uncanny ability to phrase in unison, a superstar percussionist, and a rapper.
Mendes has settled into a reasonably comfortable routine for the last decade or so. His shows are mostly great, though there’s often some part that doesn’t quite work. If the addition of wiggedy-wack MC H20 felt like a novelty five years ago, it’s long since worn off, and he remains the only member I want to see get less stage time. (Less rapping, more tambourine solos from Jibi the percussionist!) And I keep forgetting that Mendes wrote the eighties power ballad “Never Gonna Let You Go” until he whips it out at the Bowl every few years, usually with singer Joe Pizzulo in tow, as he was tonight. But for a good 75% of the time, it’s Brazil 66 style all the way, great songs by Jobim, Baden Powell, Jorge Ben, Bacharach and the Beatles, and seeing that stuff played by a hot band with great singers never gets old.
Hall and Alpert made their appearance toward the end of Mendes’ set, with impressive renditions of “Going Out Of My Head” and “Fool On The Hill.” It was quite special hearing that voice meshed with that piano player again, that peculiar blend that made Brazil 66 possible.
And in my favorite Hollywood Bowl tradition, a line of Brazilian dancing girls shook feathers off their barely concealed tails for the encore of “Tristeza.” The last time I saw this ritual, I noticed a ten year old kid in the pool boxes, who was turned around to watch the dancers, so he was facing me, and he had this look of utter open-mouthed amazement on his face, like he was watching Superman fly around. Behind him, his dad had exactly the same expression on his face. I hope someone got their young son good seats for this show and stayed til the end because those kind of moments don’t come along every day.