Put two great artists in a recording studio and leave them to their own devices, and if those artists are Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, you’re likely to come up with something special. At least that’s what you’d expect. And while just how special the music from the duo’s 1975 and 1976 sessions which produced first The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and then its sequel Together Again is debatable. There is no debate but that the performances are exceptional, even, if at least for some listeners, not quite as exceptional as expected: once again suffering the curse of great expectations.
Now comes the release April 28, of a “deluxe” four-LP Box set of The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings, and it is something of a mixed blessing. The set includes both original albums plus two discs made up of bonus tracks and alternate takes, as well as what they call a “collectible 12X12 photograph” of the duo and a 12-page booklet with liner notes by Will Friedwald. But since the music itself is already available on a 2009 two-disc CD, the audience for the new release would seem to be the audiophile with a jones for vinyl and the most devoted of Bennett, Evans fans, the kind of obsessive collectors who must have everything.
Since I only had access to CD versions of the “Audio from the Forthcoming Vinyl Box Set,” which I presume is comparable to, if not actually the same as the 2009 release, I have no way of commenting on the sound quality of the new release. As far as the music itself, Bill Evans can’t make a mediocre album, and Tony Bennett in the seventies is at his best, so put me in the great expectations met camp. Their alternate takes would have been gems for other artists. And it is interesting to hear and try of compare rejected takes with those used on the album.
The songs for the album were chosen on the spot. Bennett and Evans worked out the arrangements “semi-spontaneously.” There are a number of stalwarts from the Great American Songbook: tunes like “Young and Foolish,” which opens the first album, “My Foolish Heart,” “Make Someone Happy,” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” There are some less familiar pieces, songs like “When in Rome” and “You’re Nearer.” There is a version of the classic Evan’s instrumental, “Waltz for Debby” with lyrics by Gene Lees (although why you would want to burden that masterpiece with lyrics is beyond me).
I can’t speak for the vinyl set, but the two-CD album is a joy.