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Sylvia Bennett: Smile

Edward Blanco By

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The Great American Songbook is full of love songs that have stood the test of time through countless interpretations by the greatest singers in the world. In searching for new ways to recast such standards—without serving up the same old tunes in the same worn out fashion—Sylvia Bennett takes her turn at voicing many of these familiar songs and, with Smile, breathing new life into a dozen oft-recorded standards. To distinguish the album from other similar recordings, Bennett and longtime producer/guitarist Hal S. Batt, forgo the use of any horn instruments in favor of delivering rhythm-based music employing a typical piano-bass-drum combo augmented by Batt on guitar, and adding a special touch—the sounds of the Vienna Strings, arranged by Mike Lewis.

Bennett's warm-toned vocals serve her quite well here as she unleashes an assault on the Songbook in stylish fashion, opening and closing the repertoire with Burt Bacharach's "Look of Love," bookending the album with a classic rendition and a smooth pop version, essentially departing from the theme of the project. The late Charlie Chaplin most likely spread a smile from above after hearing Bennett's treatment of his immortal title tune complete with Batt's tasteful guitar licks against the backdrop of beautifully arranged strings.

On the bewitching "Witchcraft," Bennett turns in a lush performance behind some very fine instrumentals from her hand-picked crew. Based in Miami, Florida, the singer calls on nationally-recognized musicians from the area including bassist and University of Miami educator Chuck Bergeron, pianist Mike Levine, drummer Richard Bravo, and percussionist Sammy Figueroa.

The love ballads continue with the classic "Shadow of Your Smile" and Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You," with Bennett's soft vocals providing a tenderizing touch. Flavoring the music from boleros to bossa nova and Latin styles, some of the pieces—like "Make Someone Happy" and the Cole Porter standard "Night and Day"—include delicate percussion from Figueroa, except on "Where or When," where the beat is lively and fast-paced.

Bennett does her magic with stellar reads of "Fly Me to the Moon" and "What a Difference a Day Makes." Before the pop-styled finale of the "Look of Love," she provides a bonus track of "Smile," this time titled "Sonrie," voicing the lyrics in Spanish, backed once again, by superb instrumentals and strings. Within the genre of gentle jazzy love songs, Bennett's treatment of this music delivers a musical experience sure to draw a well-deserved Smile.


Track Listing: Look of Love; Smile; Witchcraft; Shadow of Your Smile; The Very Thought of You; Make Someone Happy; I'll Be Seeing You; Where or When; Love is Here to Stay; Night and Day; Fly Me to the Moon; What a Difference a Day Makes; Sonrie; Look of Love.

Personnel: Sylvia Bennett: vocals; Chuck Bergeron: bass; Mike Levine: piano; Richard Bravo: drums; Hal S. Batt: guitar; Sammy Figueroa: shaker (6, 8, 10); Mike Lewis: arranger of Vienna Strings.

Title: Smile | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Self Produced


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