LP Review: The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings

New vinyl box set commemorates the 40th anniversary of the pairing of these two musical giants.
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Forty years ago, two giants of American music collided when Tony Bennett and the late virtuoso jazz pianist Bill Evans decided to make music together. Remarkably, the pair didn't even have a song list in mind when they got together, Rather, Bennett would call out a number and Evans would approve or disapprove and they'd work out arrangements from there. The results were an embarrassment of riches.

1975's The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and its follow-up, Together Again, showcase two masters of their craft on top of their games. Bennett is in strong voice throughout and is matched note for note by Evans' brilliant playing. Stripped down from any orchestration -- Bennett and Evans are the only musicians to appear on the recordings -- both albums demonstrate not only the strength of The Great American Songbook, but also the strength of the performers themselves.

To celebrate 40 years since this historic pairing took place, the two albums are being reissued, with a host of bonus tracks, on the four-LP set, The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings. The presentation is top notch, with 180-gram vinyl, a 12x12 photograph of Bennett and Evans, and a 12-page booklet of rare photographs with liner notes by Will Friedwald, who coauthored Bennett's autobiography. But what of the music itself?

The collection opens with "Young and Foolish," which finds Bennett, then in his mid 40s, reminiscing for days gone by. Evans provides sparse accompaniment, but shines during his lyrical solo on this wistful opener. Bennett's voice is the first thing the listener hears on "The Touch of Your Lips" and he delivers a longing vocal. Evans excels with his intricate playing that is playful, but never too busy.

Evans' classic "Waltz For Debby" takes flight with a fine vocal from Bennett that alternates between powerful and understated. It's easy to see why this is one of Evans' most beloved songs and, in the hands of a great singer such as Bennett, it soars to new levels. "Make Someone Happy" finds Bennett giving a confident vocal, but the real star is Evans, as he pushes the limits of his piano on this staggering cut. Likewise, Bennett gives a tender reading on "You're Nearer," with Evans providing a fine musical backdrop. Throughout the proceedings, both stars get to shine, but never get in each other's way.

In addition to the two complete albums, the box set contains 20 alternate takes. Among the highlights are a beautiful "Waltz For Debby" and a rendition of "Who Can I Turn To" with a great vocal from Bennett and an equally great Evans on piano. As the closing track on the box, it is a fitting way to end a fantastic collection.

Both artists spoke highly of each other and of these recordings through the years and it's no wonder why. The singing and playing is inspired throughout. The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings is required listening for fans of either artist.