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Bennett At His Best

27 JUL 11 ANNE FARNSWORTH

In the '70s, national treasure Tony Bennett launched his own label, Improv, and proceeded to record five albums during the company's short tenure. The highlights have been assembled in a new release, The Best Of The Improv Recordings, featuring "Frank Sinatra's favorite singer" in settings ranging from orchestral to the famous solo piano sessions with Bill Evans.

The opener is a subtly burning "This Can't Be Love," backed by the Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet, with Braff's muted coronet dancing behind the lyrics. From his Life Is Beautiful release we get "Reflections" and "As Time Goes By," arranged by Torrie Zito to showcase Bennett's more dramatic side.

But my favorites are the Bill Evans duo tracks. Bennett easily matches Evans' deep well of passion, their "Make Someone Happy" is more rueful admonishment than cheery advice. Evans' stature promotes him from merely accompanying to an equal partnership which Bennett, a musician's singer, enthusiastically embraces. In "You Don't Know What Love Is" Bennett lets his voice strain with emotion, the vocal equivalent of Evans' often heart-breaking lyricism. The set closes with Bennett's theme song, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," one of two tracks recorded live in Buffalo, NY.

All in all, this is a great sampler but if you want more, remember that Concord has already released The Complete Improv Recordings, a 4-disc set of that will keep you entertained for a lifetime.