Tony Bennett / Bill Evans: The Complete Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Recordings

This lavish four-LP reissue celebrates the 40th anniversary of these monumental sessions by two of the great understated jazz interpreters.
Tony Bennett / Bill Evans
The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings

By the time Tony Bennett and Bill Evans came together to record these sides 40 years ago, their respective careers were more or less in the weeds, having long since fallen off the mainstream’s radar. With these gorgeously unadorned renditions of popular standards, Bennett and Evans succeeded in restating their case for continued relevance as both performers and artists, capable of highly nuanced, personal interpretations. In the case of Bennett, these sessions largely defined his later recorded output and served as a career renaissance of sorts after years in the proverbial wilderness.

Functioning as a veritable master class in jazz interpretation, both Evans and Bennett are at the top of their respective games on The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings, each placing their inimitable stamps on the well-worn material. So successful was their first pairing that they quickly followed it with a second session. With both collected here in a lavish new vinyl reissue, listeners can experience the brilliance of these two iconic performers in the warmth of analog, catching all the subtle nuance of each performer’s phrasing, control and grasp of the material.

A wonderfully sympathetic and idiosyncratic accompanist, Evans knows when to pull back and allow Bennett to handle the melody. Wending his way through Bennett’s vocals, Evans provides a sturdy undercurrent that often proves equally compelling to that of the melody itself, making it difficult to determine which performer on which to focus fully. But what a wonderful predicament to have, these two giants perfectly complimenting one another and elevating the other’s playing to new levels.

Fleshed out with a plethora of alternate takes from each of the two intimate sessions, The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings offers a wealth of material that strives to chronicle the creative process that gave birth to these historic sessions. The sheer wealth of material presented here in the new four LP set can be somewhat overwhelming, however it proves highly rewarding and serves as some of the best music created by either Bennett or Evans.

“Young And Foolish”, here presented both in its original version and alternate take, shows the massive change in tone and the subtle differences in performances that can have on the overall tone of the material. On the alternate take, Evans is afforded both an extended, slightly more dynamic solo and lyrical introduction that helps better set up Bennett. With this greater lead in, Bennett takes a more introspective, almost contemplative approach to the lyrics, allowing each question to linger slightly longer than on the version that made the final cut.

Phrases are stretched, pauses accentuated, all for greater emotional impact, allowing the weight of the lyrics to fully resonate. It’s a rawer, less stylized performance that helps convey the emotional heft to a greater degree. When contrasted with the much more orchestrated version of the song on Bennett’s 1963 album I Wanna Be Around…, these recordings serve to better showcase the full range of Bennett’s skills as an interpreter. When paired with a sympathetic partner, he shows himself capable of fully inhabiting the material in a manner often overlooked when contrasted with the more pop-leaning recordings upon which he made a name for himself.

Equally of interest are the three separate renditions of “The Bad And The Beautiful”, each a solo showcase for Evans’ gorgeous melodicism. Taking a more straight-forward approach in the alternate first take, Evans wraps the melody in a loving embrace that spans the length of the keyboard, the left hand subtly shadowing the right while providing both structural and rhythmic support that requires a great deal of focus to fully grasp. By track’s end, the piano has nearly disappeared into itself, employing a delicate decrescendo that spans the length of the solo. By contrast, the second alternate take utilizes a broader range of dynamics and slight tempo shifts to provide the tune with a lighter sound and feel that, at times, borders on waltz-like.

“Some Other Time” is particularly devastating, with Bennett employing an uncharacteristically wide vibrato that finds his voice showing a range of emotional nuance rarely seen prior to these intimate recordings. Equally affecting is Evans’ delicate restatement of the melody and solo section that manages to perfectly compliment the tone of Bennett’s vocal performance. With these two inimitable performers so perfectly paired, it’s nearly impossible to find fault in anything this reissue has to offer.

Having been released on CD several years ago, this new vinyl edition affords listeners the intimate, engaged experience demanded by music of this nature. Rather than simply allowing the whole of the disc to spin, active listening is required to ensure nothing is missed. With a warmth and immediacy that places these two twin titans right in the room, this 40th anniversary edition of these legendary sessions is one not to be missed by fans of either artist. The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings is a master class in interpretive performance and the power of emotion in art.

RATING 9 / 10