Artist: Tony Bennett & Bill Evans
Album: The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings
Release Date: 04/28/2015
Despite having similar musical attributes and often drawing from the same repertoire of songs, the worlds of vocal pop and jazz, in the post-swing era, rarely converge. There are exceptions, of course–John Coltrane’s album with Johnny Hartman comes to mind–but it seems rare to hear crooners collaborating with serious improvisers. All of this is to say that the two collaborative albums from amiable singer Tony Bennett and legendary pianist Bill Evans–1975’s The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and 1976’s Together Again–may have seemed to be the product of an unusual partnership when they were first released. However, the albums were deservedly warmly received and now, four decades later, have been reissued and packaged with outtakes and alternate takes as the four-LP, vinyl box set, The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings.
Evans was a musician whose ability was several orders higher than that of the musicians with whom Bennett usually worked, but the singer–then in his mid-40s and ostensibly past his commercial prime–more than holds his own here. Indeed, Evans’s lyrical, sophisticated soloing and comping pairs surprisingly well with Bennett’s warm, relaxed vocals. Of particular note are their renditions of the Evans-penned classic “Waltz For Debby,” with the version that appeared on the original release of The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album containing the better performance from Bennett and the alternate take featuring the superior Evans solo.
The camaraderie between these two veteran musicians is evident throughout these four discs. Indeed, Bennett described their semi-spontaneous approach to recording these albums: “I would name a tune, and Bill would say, ‘That’s good, let’s do that.’ We’d find a key and then the two of us would work it out.” To further underscore this informal, friendly quality, the end of “Dream Dancing” catches a bit of studio chatter from Bennett, who chuckles and exclaims, “Yeah, beautiful! What an ending that was, man!” That spirit of low-key, friendly collaboration pervades this collection of songs.
– Chris Alarie