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The Complete Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Recordings

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Album Review

Having completed his relatively brief sojourn with MGM/Verve with 1973's Listen Easy, Tony Bennett was in the midst of forming his own label, Improv Records, when he made a deal with jazz pianist Bill Evans to cut two LPs: The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and Together Again. (The first would be for Evans' label, Fantasy Records, the second to follow on Improv.) The singer and his collaborator — "accompanist" does not adequately describe Evans' contribution, and in any case he received co-billing — got together in a recording studio over four days in June 1975 with no one other than the producer, Helen Keane and an engineer present, and quickly recorded two of the best albums of either's career. For Bennett, it was a dream project; for years (decades, actually), he had been balancing the demands of commerciality with his own inclinations toward jazz and affection for the songs of Broadway masters and of the Great American Songbook. Left to himself with a jazz partner, he naturally gravitated toward both interests. There were songs here that he had already recorded, but never in so unadorned and yet fully realized a fashion. Evans was an excellent accompanist, using his steady left hand to keep his singer centered, but ready, whenever the vocals were finished, to go off into his characteristically lyrical playing. Bennett could seem a bit earthbound when he came back in (he still wasn't really a jazz singer), but his obvious enthusiasm for the project, coupled with his mastery of phrasing in songs he understood perfectly made him an equal in the partnership. As far as the major-label record business was concerned, the 46-year-old singer might have been over the hill and indulging himself, but in fact he was in his prime and finally able to pursue his ambitions unfettered, and that would prove itself a major boost to his career over time. For the moment, he'd made an excellent jazz-pop hybrid in which both musicians were shown off to advantage. [Of the 20 alternate takes and two bonus tracks included in this complete package, nine are previously unreleased except on the Bennett box set, The Complete Improv Recordings. Not surprisingly, they are more interesting for Evans' different improvisations than for anything else. But they also demonstrate that he and Bennett tried different approaches to the tunes. "Young and Foolish," the lead-off track on their first album, begins with both Bennett and Evans on the refrain, but the alternate take starts with Evans alone, followed by Bennett singing the song's introductory verse instead; the version runs a minute longer. The alternate take of "The Touch of Your Lips," on the other hand, is at a faster tempo and a minute shorter. None of the alternate takes actually improves on the originally released ones, but they show how well considered the album was.]

Biography

Born: 03 August 1926 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Tony Bennett's career has enjoyed three distinct phases, each of them very successful. In the early '50s, he scored a series of major hits that made him one of the most popular recording artists of the time. In the early '60s, he mounted a comeback as more of an adult-album seller. And from the mid-'80s on, he achieved renewed popularity with generations of listeners who hadn't been born when he first appeared. This, however, defines Bennett more in terms of marketing than music. He would probably...
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