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Tony Bennett and Bill Evans The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Music-making simply doesn't get any better than on these classic recordings.

Michael Quinn 2009

Two legends, two legendary albums: music-making simply doesn't get any better than on these classic, never-bettered recordings.

Listening again to the first collaboration between Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, now more than three decades old, it seems impossible that these two giants of understated musical sophistication went into the studio with no idea of what they would record. Instead, over a three-day period in 1975, they plucked one definitive performance after another out of thin air to produce a nine-track album – called, with straightforward simplicity, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album – that was bettered only by its solitary follow-up, the next year's Together Again.

If you don't know these albums – or if you do and your LP versions are thin and threadbare through overuse – this magnificent new reissue is an essential purchase. Re-mastered and repackaged, it comes with an informative and enthusiastic extended essay by self-styled 'extremist wacko nutball' Will Friedwald, setting the two recordings into a vivid and fascinating context. That it also boasts a bonus disc of previously unreleased alternative versions of some performances is the honey pot attraction.

Seventy-five minutes of new material, including two spellbinding solo accounts by Evans of David Raskin's The Bad and the Beautiful, cast illuminating light on the making of two albums that immediately acquired definitive status on their release. Heard again half a lifetime later, they remain jaw-droppingly good.

On evidence throughout is the modesty and generosity of both men: Bennett intuitively mapping out a lyric with x-ray clarity, and Evans beautifully responsive and reciprocal yet so much more than mere accompanist. Not even Bennett's long-time pianist Ralph Sharon comes close to creating this kind of incisive alchemy with the great song stylist.

It's not just that albums as good – no, as great – as this are no longer made today; it's that there’s nobody around who could possibly make them, with the obvious exception of Bennett himself, Evans having died far too early at the age of 51 in 1980. Trying to imagine what a new, third album from the two veterans might have sounded like is a tantalising, entirely unrealisable 'what if'.

In the absence of such a recording, however, this essential reissue will more than suffice.

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