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Lani Hall’s first album in nearly 25 years continues a decades-long love story.
When the pandemic arrived a couple of years ago and a long string of concerts with her husband of 48 years, Herb Alpert, was canceled, singer Lani Hall found herself a new hobby. “Would you like to know what it is?” she asks with a laugh, speaking by phone from her home in Malibu, California, on a recent Monday afternoon. “Cooking!”
Hall, whose soulful alto was the signature voice of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 from 1966 to 1971, and who, since leaving that band, has enjoyed a rewarding solo career and maintained a long and fruitful recording and performance partnership with her husband, goes on to explain that she was never all that interested in the culinary arts. She recalls an early date with Herb. “When he first came to the apartment I was living in, he said, ‘Do you have anything to eat?’ I looked at him with wide eyes, and then I looked in the refrigerator. There was a bowl of rice and a stale carrot, and that’s what I gave him.”
Hall says her love for Alpert has never waned, only waxed. As Herb is the great love of her life, so she is the great love of his, a sentiment they’ve both expressed publicly.
One day, about 18 months ago, Hall was in her kitchen, presumably enjoying her new hobby, when Alpert called her into his studio. “I want you to hear something,” he told her. Then he played her a track he had been secretly working on, a version of “Seasons of Love,” a sweet, lyrically rich show tune from the musical Rent. The ensuing conversation went like this:
Lani: “Oh, I love this song!”
Herb: “I know you do! That’s why I did it for you.”
Lani: “What do you mean?”
Herb: “I want you to record the song. You love it so much. Come on, let’s do something with it!”
“It was the most sensitive thing he could’ve given me,” Hall says. “And that began the whole process of making the album.”
That album, a ballad-laden 10-track outing titled Seasons of Love (Herb Alpert Presents) recorded and produced in Alpert’s studio and released in April, is the first released under Hall’s name alone since 1998’s Brasil Nativo. That’s not to say the singer hasn’t been busy. She’s toured frequently with Alpert since 2007 and co-headlined with him on three long-players between 2008 and 2014.
An album about love — specifically, says Lani, “the power of love” — Seasons of Love is, fittingly, lovely. Highlights include the gently insistent opener, “Happy Woman”; emotive, straightforward readings of pop standards “Lovely Day” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”; sweetly declarative renditions of Winona Judd’s “You Are” and Bobby Troupe’s “Now You Know”; and the unabashedly optimistic album closer, a gentle cover of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.”
Hall warmly caresses and burnishes every word she sings, and, not by accident, brings to most of the songs — most notably “Seasons of Love” and an enchanting version of Jobim’s “Waters of March” — a carefully measured touch of Broadway theatricality.
“I’ve always gravitated toward singers who were actors as well,” she says. “Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland — they really strived to hit the soul and meaning of the song. They weren’t the only ones I listened to; I listened to a lot of jazz singers, and they really paved the way for my singing. But that’s what I adored about Streisand, that dramatic element. It felt to me like she was living these short stories that she was telling.”
Alpert, who co-produced the album with Hall, adds either trumpet or flugelhorn to six tunes. Pianist Bill Cantos, guitarist Mitchell Long and bassist Hussain Jiffry are also key contributors to the proceedings.
“I think there’s love everywhere,” Hall says when asked why she recorded an album about that oft-covered subject. “You just have to remember that it’s there. The love that I have with Herb transformed my life and keeps transforming it. I never knew that love was that strong.” - David Pulizzi