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Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap: The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern

James Doherty By

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Tony Bennett and pianist Bill Charlap explore the songbook of Jerome Kern on this new release from RPM/Columbia Records. A return to intimate small group jazz, the album marks a welcome reprieve for Bennett, whose work in recent years has been dominated by over-produced duets with an array of current pop superstars. Charlap's well thought out arrangements and sympathetic accompaniment allow Bennett the space he needs to truly take ownership of the material, which includes staples such as "All the Things You Are," "Yesterdays," and "The Song is You." Now approaching 90, he retains good control of his voice, his vibrato only slightly shaky on long notes. The Silver Lining finds Bennett relaxed and expressive, confidently bringing to bear his almost seven decades of performing experience.

Like Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra before him, lyrics have always been as important to Bennett as melody. He is, therefore, especially communicative on the ballads, thoughtfully pitching his volume and modulating his tone. On the compulsory "The Way You Look Tonight," his voice descends to a soft and intimate whisper, Charlap's understated and sparse piano complementing the singer's raw vulnerability. Having learned that just enough trumps too much, Bennett masterfully seasons the music with well-placed silences and spaces and restricts his use of melodic embellishments so that when they do come, the effect is dazzling. One such moment occurs in the first chorus of "They Didn't Believe Me": the trill on the word "tell" (in the line 'And when I tell them...'), in retrospect so logical and apt yet at first listen so unanticipated, leaves the listener tantalised.

The up-tempo numbers are energetic rhythmic workouts, with Bennett bouncing infectiously over Charlap's crisp and steady piano. This kind of sprightly swing suits selections like "Pick Yourself Up" and "Nobody Else But Me," both of which feature singer and accompanist in a fun and jaunty groove.

On seven of the fourteen tracks there is sturdy accompaniment from Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Three of the remaining tunes (all ballads, incidentally) feature two pianists: Charlap himself and his wife Renee Rosnes. The Silver Lining goes straight to the top drawer of Bennett's vast discography and, as a piano-vocal album, is as rewarding as his celebrated meetings with Bill Evans in the mid-seventies.

Track Listing: All the Things You Are; Pick Yourself Up; The Last Time I Saw Paris; I Won't Dance; Long Ago and Far Away; Dearly Beloved; The Song Is You; They Didn't Believe Me; I'm Old Fashioned; The Way You Look Tonight; Yesterdays; Make Believe; Nobody Else But Me; Look For the Silver Lining.

Personnel: Bill Charlap: piano; Renee Rosnes: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.

Title: The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Columbia Records

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