September 2005

Tony Bennett - Tony Bennett Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook
Concord CCD-2243
Format: CD
Originally released: 1976 ,1977, 2004
Reissue released: 2005

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Keely Smith - Vegas ’58 – Today
Concord CCD-2268
Format: CD
Released: 2005

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

by Rad Bennett

Over the summer, Concord Jazz presented two CDs recorded by veteran performers. The main difference is that the Tony Bennett cuts were recorded for his private company, Improv, in 1973 when he was in his prime, whereas the Keely Smith was recorded in 2004 with Smith still at her best.

It has distressed me that Bennett, now 79, continues to sing and make albums when his voice is only a harsh echo of what it used to be. This wonderful set finds him free and easy at 47, matching the talent of artists like Sinatra and Tormé in swinging favorites like "Lover," "Thou Swell," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," and "I Could Write a Book" with the jazzy backing of The Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet. At about the same time as these sessions, Bennett made LPs for Columbia, often with lush orchestrations. These established him as a mainstream pop vocalist, but this breezy, confident Concord set shows his heart was really into jazz.

Keely Smith, just six years younger than Bennett, continues to astound and entertain with her singing. This set was made live, so there was no safety net. And Smith doesn’t need one. Her voice is bright yet wise, her pitch impeccable, and her style inimitable. She engages in delightful banter with her audience, giving humorous tribute to the early days with her late husband, Louis Prima. Highlights include a wistful "What Kind of Fool Am I?" with rewritten lyrics to suit, a swinging "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues," and a lush and heartfelt "More Than You Know."

The recordings are both adequate to very good. The Bennett is more intimate and cleaner, the Smith good location work. Each serves its purpose well.