21 FEB 12 ANNE FARNSWORTH
You can keep the romance lingering long after Valentine's Day by picking up Tony Bennett’s latest release, Isn’t It Romantic? A compilation of his most heartfelt ballads, recorded on Fantasy and his own label, Improv, it contains classic tracks recorded with Ruby Braff and the highly acclaimed duets with pianist Bill Evans.
Younger fans may not be aware that Bennett was a card-carrying heartthrob in his younger years. In 1952, when he married for the first time, 2000 female fans staged a mock funeral, standing outside the church dressed in black.
Bennett has sublimated the physical power of his youth into something deeper. The man whose most notable quality after his browned butter tone was the direct connection between his heart and his voice, summons even more emotional sensitivity in his later years. A little wry, a lot wiser, the heart he wears on his sleeve may be slightly frayed but still holds enough youthful optimism to allow him, and us, to remain open to the promise of new love.
Speaking of romance, no other instrumentalist matches Bennett’s emotional lyricism like Bill Evans. The two albums they recorded together are one of the most successful collaborations in jazz, with Evans’ passionate slow burn both supporting Bennett’s vocals and lifting them to new heights. His intros, solos and occasional reharmonization of “We’ll Be Together Again,” “Young And Foolish” and “But Beautiful” create an atmospheric dream world, transforming these chestnuts into flights of nearly heartbreaking poignancy.
The four tracks featuring cornetist Ruby Braff and guitarist George Barnes are from Bennett’s 1973 release, The Rogers And Hart Songbook. Although the playing is first rate and their subdued approach perfectly matches the spirit of this compilation, the tracks are palate cleansers between courses of the real magic made by Bennett and Evans.