In the mid-1970s, when singer Tony Bennett
got together with pianist Bill Evans
to record The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album
(Concord, 1975) and Together Again
(Concord, 1976), Bennett was considered terminally uncool by most jazz fans under 30, and rock fans of any age. Despite a few earlier outings in jazz contexts, including an album recorded with Count Basie
's orchestra, Basie Swings, Bennett Sings
(Roulette, 1959) he was primarily regarded as an MOR or standards singer, defined in the public consciousness by his 1962 hit "I Left My Heart In San Francisco."
But the passage of time encourages revisionism, and just as many jazz fans, even the younger ones, will admit to experiencing Burt Bacharach moments in post-modern 2009, so Bennett has in later life been enjoying a new place in the sun. Aged 72, he was among the biggest successes at the UK's Glastonbury Festival in 1998, and who would have predicted that in the 1970s?
Evans, on the other hand, had by the mid-1970s been cooler than ice for approaching two decades; certainly since his inclusion on trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959). Cerebral, introspective and harmonically sophisticated, Evans had come through bouts of heroin addiction with his artistry not just intact but deepened. (Cocaine would play a part in his death in 1980, but when he recorded the albums with Bennett he was said to be clean, or as clean as a recovering addict can be).
The double CD, The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings includesalong with The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and Together Again, which make up the first disc20 alternate takes from the sessions which produced the albums, plus two titles recorded for Together Again but not included on it ("Who Can I Turn To?" and "Dream Dancing.") All the material has been released previously.
It's a great package. There is an intriguing juxtaposition of opposites running through the musicBennett the expansive, heart on sleeve, vibrato man, Evans the inward looking aesthetewhich makes for charged listening, if charged is an adjective which can be applied to something so relaxed. And the projects were genuinely collaborative, with the artists on an equal footing: Evans solos wonderfully throughout and Together Again actually starts with a solo piano piece, "The Bad And The Beautiful," put there at Bennett's suggestion to emphasize that this wasn't just a vocalist-with-accompanist affair.
Received wisdom holds that The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album has the edge over Together Again, but hearing the albums one after the other, chronologically, makes that questionable. By the time Bennett and Evans made the second album they'd been performing live together for a year and their partnership, comfortable enough though it was on the first album, is noticeably better oiled.