Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tony Bennett & Bill Evans: The Complete Recordings

Fantasy Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.05.09
Buy CD: The Complete Recordings

There's no question about pianist Bill Evans' importance to jazz, or his position within that genre's Hall of Fame.

He was, without question, one of the finest composers, arrangers and instrumentalists of the past 50 years, and he had immense influence on other musical artists who developed during that period.

On the other hand, many will raise eyebrows at the thought of Tony Bennett being considered as a jazz vocalist. (Isn't he the guy who sang ballads for so many years?) Well, he has sold more than 50 million records to date, and — believe it or not — he's considered by an untold number of jazz artists to be one of the best male jazz vocalists who ever lived.

During his career, Bennett has sung and recorded with the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and — as this album demonstrates — the incomparable Evans.

This double-CD is a compilation of two recording sessions: the first in 1975, the second a year later. Evans plays and Bennett sings, and that's all we need. The 21 tracks on the first disc, the “chosen” takes from both sessions, are mostly ballads and show tunes made famous by both artists.

The second disc consists of alternate takes from the same sessions, and don't despair: While you'll detect similarities, they aren't “copies.” Remember, these guys were improvising, without rehearsals, after deciding on the proper “key” and “order” of the choruses.

All but three tracks are duets; the exceptions are solos by Evans. And while only a few of these tunes are up-tempo, recall that some of the greatest jazz played is balladic; phrasing and innovation are the important elements.

You can listen to this album for hours, and hear something new each time. It's a double-masterpiece!

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