Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

The Best of the Improv Recordings


Here’s where we have arrived in this fine summer of 2011 — box sets are releasing “Greatest Hits” collections. It makes a weird sense — the box set aims to collect every possible track from the good to the bad to outtakes and accidental sessions with a microphone left on in the men’s room. The greatest hits collection inverts that trope; it cherry picks the big hits and popular standards, and only dips into the B material to give the buyer a full plate. It’s sort of like putting parsley next to a hamburger; even though no one eats it, you feel you have something extra. Bennett is one of those Rat Pack era smoothies — a solid male vocal with backing support from top artists up to and including Count Basie. He spent a few decades with CBS, then they pulled some typical music studio crap on their biggest seller, and he went of with a friend to start an indie label called “Improv.” CBS was so desperate, they agreed to distribute, which was the one thing Improv had trouble with.

All this good gossip is packed into that little booklet Concord so thoughtfully includes. It’s one of the real bonus features you get from them with the purchase of a physical CD. The music here is solid, consistent, and loaded with Bennett’s best material. “Make Someone Happy” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” flow by like fine bourbon after a filet mignon and a tall dark woman in a tight dress. Like other Concord re-issues, the mix focuses on Bennett’s voice and the arrangements are simple and minimalist. A guitar chord or two, maybe a piano riff, and a very discrete drummer back him. I can picture these pros in dark tuxes with their faces dark and a gentle wash across their instruments as Bennett sweats professionally under a pure white follow spot in a white tux. Off in the shadows Matt Helm, Derek Flint, Sean Connery and Austin Powers play bridge for matchsticks. As the evening winds down, Bennett tackles his signature song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The vocal is a little less intimate, the arrangement somewhat more pronounced, and of course there’s a slightly drunk crowd who held onto their show tickets and enough cash for a tip. This is the real deal if you’re play-acting your parents’ or grandparents’ retro cool lifestyle. Bennett is more accessible than Esquivel and slightly less clichéd than Sinatra, so drink up, there’s more where that came from.

Concord Music Group:

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