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Extended Analysis

Tony Bennett: The Complete Improv Recordings

By Published: December 10, 2004
Tony Bennett
The Complete Improv Recordings
Concord Records

While the 1970s turned popular music upside down, Tony Bennett maintained a casual composure. Throughout the turmoil, he continued to bring us pleasant ballads and heartfelt classics. From his own Improv label, this 4-CD anthology reissues five albums: Life is Beautiful , Tony Bennett Sings 10 Great Rodgers and Hart Songs , Tony Bennett Sings More Great Rodgers and Hart , Together Again , and Tony Bennett/The McPartlands and Friends Make Magnificent Music. The collection also includes tracks originally released as Improv 45s, as well as previously unreleased takes.

Disc One features a program of lovely ballads backed by Bennett's piano trio and a lush studio orchestra. He simmers emotionally, unleashing his vibrant Italian tenor brassiness without restraint. Jazz and timeless ballads coexist with contrasting forces. Bennett swings with walking bass, ride cymbal and finger-popping rhythms one moment, and then charms your socks off with searing melodic arias the next. His Cole Porter medley and his hot swing band arrangement of "There'll Be Some Changes Made" revel in their highly rhythmic setting. Bennett brings a swinging excitement to these familiar tunes and colors them gracefully with the studio orchestra's verdant luster.

Disc Two features Bennett with the Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet. Together, they swing through 26 favorite Rodgers & Hart classics that have become ingrained in the jazz vocabulary. Six alternate takes have been included for completeness. The singer is perfectly at ease in this small group swing setting. Braff provides mellow melodies, as Barnes adds the same with his crisp guitar technique. They give Bennett a suitable accompaniment as he interprets these romantic pages from the Great American Songbook. He's cool and casual throughout the sessions.

Pianist Bill Evans begins Disc Three with a sensitive a cappella interpretation of "The Bad and the Beautiful." His introspective searching creates a placid scene where serenity takes over and allows the music to drift along unencumbered. Together, he and Bennett explore 12 standards and reveal their natural partnership through nine alternate takes. Ballads work best when the artist convinces. With this session, both singer and pianist speak freely from the heart. Lyrics come alive. "A Child is Born" finds them both in love with life and its overlooked miracles. Evans' "Two Lonely People" takes the pair on a brief journey through relationship reality. Each ballad sweeps slowly around the ballroom dance floor, allowing Evans and Bennett plenty of space to explain. While the alternate takes do not add significant changes, there are subtle differences that make them worth the wait. Several of these alternate takes may be considered better than that which was originally issued.

Disk Four was recorded at a live 1977 appearance in Buffalo. Marian McPartland, Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Buddy Tate, Charlie Byrd, and others turn this final portion of Bennett's Improv anthology into a swinging festival. With a live audience, Bennett is able to do what he does best. To open the set, he murmurs, "Sit down, make yourselves comfortable." And comfortable it is, as Bennett swings heartily. His piano trio of Torrie Zito, John Giuffrida and Joe Cocuzzo give him capable support. The session's guests help to make this affair memorable. Charlie Byrd sits in for "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Let's Do it." Both are instrumentals. Trumpet, trombone, saxophone and clarinet join Bennett on "In a Mellow Tone," as he adds spontaneous wordless vocals. Later, the band interprets "'S Wonderful" as a swinging instrumental number to which Bennett adds a closing vocal chorus. He then closes the set with his trademark "I Left My Heart," to which the band returns the favor with a comfortable echo.

The Complete Improv Recordings reveals the unselfish heart that Bennett carries with him everywhere he goes. Audiences the world over have been rewarded with the genuine spirit that he espouses. Recommended, this anthology carries with it the special ingredient that Tony Bennett shares with us day in and day out.

Personnel : Tony Bennett- vocals; Torrie Zito, Bill Evans, Marian McPartland- piano; John Giuffrida, Brian Torff- bass; Chuck Hughes, George Reed, Joe Cocuzzo- drums; George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Charlie Byrd- guitar; Ruby Braff- cornet; Jimmy McPartland- cornet, trumpet; Vic Dickenson- trombone; Herb Hall- clarinet; Spider Martin- alto saxophone; Buddy Tate- tenor saxophone; Orchestra- conducted by Torrie Zito.

Track Listing :

Disc 1: Life is Beautiful; All Mine; Bridges (Travessia); Reflections; Experiment; This Funny World; As Time Goes By; I Used to be Color Blind; Lost in the Stars; There'll Be Some Changes Made; Cole Porter Medley: What Is This Thing Called Love/Love For Sale/You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To/Easy to Love/It's Alright With Me/Night and Day/Dream Dancing/I've Got You Under My Skin/Get Out of Town/What Is This Thing Called Love; There's Always Tomorrow; One; Mr. Magic.

Disc 2: This Can't Be Love; Blue Moon; The Lady is a Tramp; Lover; Manhattan; Spring is Here; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Isn't It Romantic?; Wait Till You See Her; I Could Write a Book; Thou Swell; The Most Beautiful Girl in the World; There's a Small Hotel; I've Got Five Dollars; You Took Advantage of Me; I Wish I Were in Love Again; This Funny World; My Heart Stood Still; My Romance; Mountain Greenery; This Can't Be Love; I Could Write a Book; Thou Swell; The Most Beautiful Girl in the World; I Wish I Were in Love Again; This Funny World.

Disc 3: The Bad and the Beautiful; Lucky to be Me; Make Someone Happy; You're Nearer; A Child is Born; The Two Lonely People; You Don't Know What Love Is; Maybe September; Lonely Girl; You Must Believe in Spring; Who Can I Turn To?; Dream Dancing; The Bad and the Beautiful; The Bad and the Beautiful; Make Someone Happy; You're Nearer; A Child is Born; A Child is Born; The Two Lonely People; You Don't Know What Love Is; You Don't Know What Love Is.

Disc 4: Maybe September; Maybe September; Lonely Girl; You Must Believe in Spring; You Must Believe in Spring; Who Can I Turn To?; Watch What Happens; Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise; Stompin' at the Savoy; While We're Young; In a Mellow Tone; It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing); Let's Do It; 'S Wonderful; I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

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