By Sarah Downs
Watching Herb Alpert play the Cafe Carlyle on Tuesday night, all I could think was, once a dreamboat, always a dreamboat – in every sense of the word. Alpert has, at 83, the same winning smile, sparkling eyes, and laid back, soulful sound that has characterized his playing throughout his career. He is a consummate musician, focusing with exquisite detail on a melody, telling a story with sound. With his wife Lani Hall, a Grammy winning singer in her own right, Alpert treated us to a meditation on love.
The evening started with a film of Alpert talking earnestly about how we need to make a better world, to the tune of Louis Armstrong singing It’s a Wonderful World in the background. This set the tone for the entire evening. Part reverie/part musical experiment, the show was a reminiscence looking to the future, with everything from Besame Mucho, which Lani Hall sang so beautifully, you could hear the wind through the palms, to Something by George Harrison, to I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. Nothing is off limits to Alpert and his kicking band. Mike Shapiro on drums, Hussain Jiffry on bass and Bill Cantos on piano and vocals shone as they moved effortlessly through one style into the next, whether jazz, bossa nova or a funky take on classic tunes, with a distinctly international flair. In addition to her trademark Latin repertoire, Hall also performed moving renditions of Upon a Roof by Carole King, and Just Like a Star by Corinne Bailey Rae.
Of course, no evening with Herb Alpert would be complete without a little Tijuana Brass music. (Yay!) He even sang a bit of that addictive Burt Bachrach tune This Guy’s In Love With You, which he asked us to sing along with him. At least 3/4 of the audience knew all the words. Flanked by screens playing film clips from the 1960’s of Alpert and the Tijuana brass larking about and of Alpert and Hall’s enduring romance, one could see past, present and future. Watching Alpert and Hall perform together, you could feel the authentic connection between them, both as artists and partners. They were perfectly in tune.
I could list Alpert’s accomplishments — founding A&M Records in 1962, producing some of the biggest stars in the industry, winning nine Grammies, having five #1 hits and 14 albums go platinum, to his painting and sculpture, which one can see on display at the Heather James Gallery through November 1st, to investing in the future with his music education foundation. His philanthropic work focuses on building compassion and friendship across nations, encouraging creativity, musical diversity and nurturing tolerance, through the medium of music. Honestly, however, you can find all of that in Wikipedia — as he joked during the show — At the end of the day it boils down to this: I have been humming This Guy’s In Love all day. I can’t get that Herb Alpert sound out of my head, and if that is wrong; I don’t want to be right!
To say that Herb Alpert is iconic is to understate the impact he has had on music, both as a musician and a producer. In all of his work, his art, his sound, his philanthropy, he has remained unabashedly idealistic. In these difficult times, his spirit is exactly the tonic we all need. You must see this show – it will make your heart happy.
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, at Café Carlyle, with Mike Shapiro, Hussain Jiffry and Bill Cantos; running October 9-13. Performances Tuesday – Saturday at 8:45pm. Weekday pricing begins at $100 per person / Bar Seating: $75 / Premium Seating: $150. Weekend pricing begins at $125 per person / Bar Seating: $100 / Premium Seating: $175. Reservations can be made by phone at 212.744.1600 or online via Ticketweb. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue).