Disc of the day: 21-08-09

Tony Bennett and Bill Evans: The Complete Recordings (Fantasy 0888072312814)
It’s hard to listen to this with fresh ears – especially the first nine tracks, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album, first released in 1975, and a very regular visitor in its vinyl format to my record player ever since then. It seems to me that anyone who considers being a jazz singer or a jazz pianist to accompany to a jazz singer should start with Young And Foolish, the opening track. It is some kind of pinnacle of both arts.

Bennett sings the song pretty straight, but with such control and such attention to phrasing, timing, and, above all, the emotional rise and fall of the lyric and the tune. This is not cool singing, relaxed as it may be (and when was Tony every not relaxed?) – just listen to how he moves the intensity up on “carefree days” and then gives it real welly on “bluebird has to fly”. This is a voice in soaring mode, for sure. And the heartfelt “I wish we were young and foolish again” from a man mature even then, has a real force.

Evans’ solo before Bennett comes back for the reprise in this just-under-four-minute gem is a small jewel in its own right – expertly formed, incorporating its own memorable little melodic fragments, a lovely exposition of the songs’ chords and harmonic riches and a highly personal exploration of Evans’ own feelings.

The whole of the Album holds riches like these, with Some Other Time, Evans’ famous Waltz for Debby, given lyrics for the first time by Gene Lees, and But Beautiful the other stand-outs.

The second collaboration, Together Again from a year later, completes the first CD in this twofer and starts with a graceful solo interpretation from Evans of the tune The Bad And The Beautiful, before Bennett joins him for a programme which includes Bernstein’s Lucky To Be Me, the Michel LeGrand classic You Must Believe In Spring (also the title track of an Evan trio album five years later) and another Evans original, The Two Lonely People. It’s all just as classy as the first disc and perhaps feels even more comfortable a pairing now.

The first disc ends with a couple of bonuses from the ’76 session, while the second disc comprises loads of alternate takes – five from the first session, the rest from the second – and is a real treasure trove offering fresh insights.

Just take Young And Foolish again, for example. It’s complete with the rarely-heard verse, and Bennett has a more whispered tone at the start of the chorus, as well as some lovely falling bends on the line “I wish we were…” before Evans’ solo. This solo, too, is a striking variation on the more familiar one. So, while many “alternate take” completist collections may only offer near duplicates of the eventually chosen version, this collection really does deliver.

In the substantial liner-note essay Will Friedwald highlights how different this singer and pianist collaboration was to what had gone before, even in Bennett’s own discography. This was not a singer out front being accompanied by a pianist – it was a meeting of two musicians in as perfect a partnership as you might find – then or since.

We thought the original albums were pretty complete – this release really is!

Categories: CD review

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