Janis Siegel and Laurel Massé (both original members of Manhattan Transfer) and Lauren Kinhan (New York Voices), three vocal powerhouses, joined forces as JaLaLa, and stopped at Birdland to celebrate That Old Mercer Magic, their first CD together. However, Johnny Mercer was only one part of this equation, his tunes mixing in with vocalese, soul, funk, rock, gospel, blues, bebop, jazz, even Stephen Sondheim with Siegel’s rendition of “Sorry/Grateful” fromCompany. The fusion worked.
Siegel instigated the girl group idea, called up Laurel Massé, her original gal pal from Manhattan Transfer, and they added Lauren Kinhan of New York Voices. With individual strength and passion, they became “JaLaLa” — Janis, Laurel and Lauren. Sounds musical. After Massé’s traditional opening to "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," Siegel and Kinhan hip-hopped in for a rhythmic take on the chorus, punctuated by Lew Soloff’s trumpet. Siegel gave her all to Mercer and Harry Warren’s “Jeepers Creepers,” and Massé beautifully delivered “Moon River,” leading into the trio’s upbeat “Moon Country” (Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael). With moments of girl group nostalgia, the sprightly “Spring, Spring, Spring” (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, music by Gene DePaul)suggested the “Sugartime” harmony of The McGuire Sisters.
Each vocalist selected her own solo, preceded by an anecdote. Siegel chose “Midnight Sun,” adding that Mercer wrote the lyrics as he drove down a California highway after hearing the Lionel Hampton melody on the car radio. Massé remembered her first cello teacher and vocalized, a capella, her interpretation of “Minuet” from Bach's 1st Cello Suite. Lauren Kinhan delivered some flavorful originals, including one she wrote for her daughter while she was performing in Uruguay, “Here Is My Avalon.”
Steve LaSpina on bass lent strong support in “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (Mercer/Harold Arlen), drummer Deric Dickens kept the beat and on the piano, versatile jazz pianist Yaron Gershovsky brought originality to every tune while supporting the vocalists.
Legendary bebop lyricist and singer Jon Hendricks came up from the audience to join the women in the hard-swinging vocalese of “It’s Sand, Man!”. JaLaLa’s encore, a smooth satin vocal blending of Johnny Mercer’s “Dream,” ended a show that was pure Birdland, as sentimental as Manhattan’s “Swing Street” and up-to-date as hip-hop.