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Venus in Fur

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

The long-married duo present an extraordinary evening of music at the Cafe Carlyle, giving fresh interpretations to old standards.

By New York City
Lani Hall and Herb Alpert
(© Andreas Neumann)
Lani Hall and Herb Alpert
(© Andreas Neumann)
As the legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert charmingly acknowledges during one of the free-form patter sections of the extraordinary show he and his longtime wife Lani Hall are now presenting at the Cafe Carlyle, most everyone in the room once owned his landmark album Whipped Cream and Other Delights -- if just for the cover art alone.

But anyone who expects this evening to be a mere exercise in 1960s nostalgia is in for the pleasantest of surprises. These two amazing performers (and their superb three-piece back-up band) share a rarely-witnessed ability to take even the most familiar of standards and make them sound completely fresh.

In Alpert's case, it's often a combination of rethinking an arrangement -- coupled with the fact that one may never have heard that particular song played on a trumpet -- that combine to make such musical magic. Whether it's his speeded-up, jazzy takes on the usually moody "Laura" or the normally plaintive "La Vie en Rose," or a complex riff in the midst of "Besame Mucho," these tunes almost sound like they've been invented on the spot.

Hall, whose sultry vocals often begin at the level of a slow simmer and only occasionally reach a little bit of a boil, attacks both lyrics and melodies from her unique perspective. For example, Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" have been almost stripped of their typical jauntiness and are delivered with an awareness of social commentary that adds an extra dimension to each song.

Having begun her career with Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, it's no surprise that Hall excels when singing in Portugese, and her renditions of "Violo Fora de Moda" (despite a false start), "Para-Raio" and "Opata" are among the set's highlights, and leave one wishing for more. (Did it matter that I didn't know what a single lyric meant? It did not!)

Savvy as Alpert is, he and Hall don't completely neglect their fabled past: the couple team up on a dynamite rendition of "The Look of Love" that sounds just as good as it did almost 50 years ago.

Meanwhile, Alpert treats the crowd to a shortish medley of his greatest hits, including "Whipped Cream," "Tijuana Taxi," and "A Taste of Honey." True, they don't sound quite the same without the Tijuana Brass behind him, but we wouldn't miss hearing them in any form for the world.

And if you're smart, you won't miss this show either!


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