Tony Bennett‘s Isn’t It Romantic? hit my doorstep on Valentine’s Day. It is fair to say that there isn’t a finer collection of romantic, swoon-worthy songs than this. Isn’t It Romantic? is an excellent, entry level primer of Tony Bennett’s catalog for those whose interest may have been piqued by his recent Grammy win for Duets II.
In the ’70s, after a stint with Columbia, Bennett started his own label, Improv, and released ten albums of standards. This remastered collection is culled from those sessions. Paired with some of the finest jazz musicians of the era, he dips into the Great American Songbook. Just a few of the songwriters represented here are Rodgers and Hart, Mercer and Mancini, and Cole Porter.
There’s something unbearably lovely about Tony Bennett’s voice paired with a simple piano. Both instruments shine. The three tracks recorded with jazz genius pianist Bill Evans are culled from their album Together Again from 1976. There’s a playfulness here, especially on “Dream Dancing,” that is wonderful. Bennett and Evans communicate musically and almost telepathically, both showcasing the other.
The numbers from 1973′s Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook hold a special place in my heart. These are classics, songs you know but don’t even know that you do, and handled with grace and wit by Bennett and the Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet. What struck me on first listen was the emptiness around the notes. These aren’t busy pieces of music. They are perfectly played bits of elegance. “Lover,” in particular, is exquisite. The muted chorus is terribly sexy, like a whispered late night confession of love.
“As Time Goes By” is, of course, inexorably linked with Casablanca. Bennett’s version is a treasure, recorded with the Torrie Zito Trio. “Life Is Beautiful” from the same sessions exemplifies how easy he makes singing sound, with an effortless stretch to another octave.
Tony Bennett teams again with Bill Evans in six songs from their 1975 record, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album. Their take on Mercer and Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” is especially fine, and Bill Evans’s piano is graceful. “The Touch of Your Lips” begins with a bit of a cappella singing that is so completely lovely that it begs to be rewound repeatedly.
Though there may be pretenders to the throne, no one interprets a song like Tony Bennett. He has a warmth and purity to his slightly raspy voice, and a sense of humor and wonder that elevates his fellow players as well as himself. The man is a national treasure, one who reinvented and reinvigorated himself when his career was deemed “over”. While he makes glorious music now, it’s fantastic that he has such a vast and impressive back catalogue to delve into for new fans. Isn’t It Romantic? is an absolute delight from beginning to end.
Isn’t It Romantic? was released by Concord Music Group on February 7 and is available to order from their website.