Friday, March 16, 2012

Tony Bennett - Duets II

 Duets II
 

Amy Winehouse's "Body and Soul," even if it weren't arguably the most famous "jazz improv" tune (via Coleman Hawkins' 1939 recording of the standard, where, arguably for the first time, a soloist did not use the main melody of the tune
and struck out on his own, ushering in modern improvised jazz as we know it today), just KILLS her version of this song--

I don't doubt for a second (speaking purely sonically, this without knowing her extensive substance-abuse history or recent death) that she absolutely meant what she sang: hers was a voice with genuine and obvious experience.

It's also a great reminder why nearly everyone else on this pretty much sucks: they're all just doing covers-- they don't bother to try and make the song their own, it's just a re-hash, full of over-reverence for the source material.

Lady Gaga (surprisingly?) is actually really cool-- she's one of the only ones trying to do something new with her tune. She's having a lot of fun with "The Lady is a Tramp," and this sense of fun infects Bennett, whose performance seems boosted by this. There's no gravitas here (not that there has to be, just see Buddy Greco's version of this tune for evidence of this), but she's clearly enjoying herself-- and in this, she entertains you. Whereas Winehouse is a singer, first and foremost, Gaga is the most obvious entertainer, and she reminds you what this means as you listen to her with Bennett-- you want to keep listening.

Faith Hill is surprisingly a good (ranged) singer on "The Way You Look Tonight," but is bland overall; it's the Christina Aguiliera problem-- great, nearly-athletic voice, great range-- with nothing to say.

You know-- the polar opposite of someone like Billie Holiday, Paolo Conte, Leonard Cohen, Gil Scott-Heron or Tom Waits.

Especially when considering that there is a truly great Johnny Griffin version of that tune on A Blowin' Session, which also features John Coltrane and Hank Mobley. It's Epic company to try and match up to, and Hill utterly fails.

Willie Nelson, after Gaga and Winehouse, hits 3rd place-- he can barely sing (I love Willie, but don't you dare try and deny it), but is 20x more interesting than the others in his version of Ellington's (via Johnny Hodges) "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

Bennett himself is surprisingly (refreshingly) gracious, in that he essentially "backs up" everyone with whom he sings-- he gives them the spotlight. I already respected Tony Bennett, but this puts him in Ronnie James Dio "I am a gracious, well-mannered badass" territory.

--Horn

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