The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings (Fantasy). The first CD of the set reissues Fantasy’s The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album from 1975 and Improv’s Together Again from 1976. It also has two previously unissued songs from the Together Again sessions, “Who Can I Turn To” and a rollicking run through Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing” In which Bennett blends into the end of Evans’ solo as if the singer were an extension of the piano. Bennett’s delighted laughter at the end of the take symbolizes the rapport between the two. Oddly, in his excellent booklet notes Will Friedwald barely mentions the track.
The second disc contains 20 alternate takes from Together Again and five from The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album. There is nothing in these alternates to suggest that the wrong takes were selected for the original releases, but they are by no means failed attempts. In the case of “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” the two alternates give dramatic evidence of Billie Holiday’s influence on Bennett. Throughout, the alternates provide insights into the variety of Evans’s inexhaustible melodic creativity. Bennett and Evans together are an art song equivalent of Dieter Fischer-Dieskau’s and Gerald Moore’s artistry with German lieder, but we have the added element of Evans’ genius at improvisation.
Daryl Sherman, New O’leans (Audiophile). Hurricane Katrina’s assault on the Crescent City inspired Sherman to record this collection of songs, but it goes beyond the post-disaster blues to touch on many of the aspects that endear New Orleans to the world. Harold Arlen’s “Ill Wind” was an obvious choice. Louis Armstrong’s “Red Cap,” Irving Berlin’s “Shaking the Blues Away,” Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” and Dave Frishberg’s “Eloise” may seem unexpected companions in a New Orleans tribute until you hear how Sherman and her colleagues use them to evoke the city. Rhodes Spedale’s “S’Mardi Gras” needs no enhancement in that regard; it is a tour of Fat Tuesday locations and emotions. Guitarist James Chirillo and trumpeter Connie Jones are Sherman’s best-known sidemen. Reed man Tom Fischer and bassist Al Bernard, misidentified as “Menard,” are in the same league. Sherman plays piano on this drummerless date. The infectious good cheer in her voice will make you grin, except when she makes your eyes moist with “Mr Bojangles” and “Wendell’s Cat.”
Joe Sardaro, Protégé (Catch My Drift). The current short supply of effective male singers with jazz leanings makes the release of a new recording by Sardaro a welcome event. The market is not saturated with his albums. His last one, Lost in the Stars, was a 1986 LP with a combo headed by Shelly Manne. It has never been reissued on CD. The Boston-area Winiker Brothers Quintet accompanying him on the new CD is less widely known but excellent. Sardaro employs his light baritone to pleasant effect in a set of 16 well-chosen songs, some of them rarely performed. I haven’t heard anyone do Charles La Vere’s “Mis’ry and the Blues” since Jack Teagarden’s 1961 recording. It’s interesting to hear it in the company of songs by, among others, Jobim, Kern, Ellington and McCartney. Sardaro is touching in his revival of the Arthur Schwartz-Dorothy Fields rarity “Alone Too Long.” As I wrote in a review of his 1986 album, in the absence of a spectacular vocal instrument, Sardaro uses taste, swing, diction and lyric interpretation. The CD’s title recognizes Sardaro’s debt to Anita O’Day, who encouraged him when he was young and with whom he kept a close relationship for the rest of her life.
Mel Tormé, California Suite (Fresh Sound). This reissue has both versions of Torme’s suite honoring his adopted state, the 1949 recording for Capitol and the 1957 remake on Bethlehem. Tormé fashioned his words and music into a cantata for orchestra, his voice and his backing vocal quartet The Melltones. The 1949 recording with Hal Mooney’s orchestra was well received, but Tormé was never completely satisfied with it. He recruited arranger Marty Paich, with whose dek-tette he had recorded LPs now recognized as minor masterpieces. They revised the work, adding interest to the harmonic structures and investing it with jazz vitality that was underemphasized in the earlier version. As splendid a singer as Tormé was the first time around, by ’57 his voice had taken on added burnish, depth and intensity. Both versions are impressive, but the later one has improvements to the lyrics and an increased rhythmic sensibility. As the first one ends, the listener may wonder why Tormé wanted to take another run at it. When the second version ends, you’ll know.
Carol Fredette, Everything In Time (Soundbrush). This is Fredette’s first CD in more than a decade, and worth waiting for. I haven’t heard anyone do the Bing Crosby feature “Love Thy Neighbor” since John Coltrane in the 1950s. Fredette sings it with joy in her voice to equal the whooping exuberance of Trane’s solo. Her laughing, quacking take on the bossa nova classic “O Pato” is just one more of 15 reasons to admire this classy collection.
John Sheridan, Swing Is Still The King, featuring Rebecca Kilgore (Arbors). Kilgore, one of the purest of singers, is on more than half the tracks, a fine idea. Pianist Sheridan’s dandy mid-sized band includes tenor saxophonist Scott Robinson, trombonist Dan Barrett and drummer Jake Hanna.
Ann Hampton Calloway, At Last (Telarc). The customary question raised in most reviews of Calloway is whether she is a jazz singer or a cabaret performer. That’s a waste of space. She has a big, rich voice and sings beautifully. What else matters? Pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Victor Lewis are her rhythm section. Marvin Stamm, Rodney Jones and Wycliffe Gordon are among the guest soloists.
Diana Krall, Quiet Nights (Verve). It’s a familiar phenomenon, the assumption by elements of the jazz cognoscenti that if a jazz artist achieves wide success, she must have watered down the product. Krall is their current favorite target, a position formerly filled by Dave Brubeck, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Chick Corea, among others. She has never been a great singer or a great jazz pianist, merely very good, and appealing in both categories. Claus Ogerman’s arrangements suit her nicely in this bewitchingly low-key recital. Slipping in a “bonus” cover of the Bee Gee’s 1971 tearjerker hit “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” wasn’t the best idea Krall–or her producer–might have come up with. The rest of the CD is fine, with a touching treatment of Jobim’s “Quiet Nights” (“Corcovado”).
Kelley Johnson, Home (Sapphire). Johnson shines in her singing, composing and arranging on this fully realized recording, a balanced blend of the familiar and the daring. She has prime assistance from her pianist husband John Hansen on some tracks and Geoffrey Keezer on others. Johnson’s and Hansen’s duet on “Where Do You Start” is a highlight. Ingrid Jensen and John Wikan contribute an arrangement that teams Johnson’s voice with Jay Thomas’s trumpet and Keezer’s piano to channel “Moon River” through new harmonic territory. This collection deserves and rewards repeated listening.
To see Singers, Part 1, go here.