Tony Bennett

Bennett Sings Ellington: Hot & Cool

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Tony Bennett's practically inevitable commemoration of the Duke Ellington centenary is an appropriately blue-chip affair, with a big band and orchestra augmenting the Ralph Sharon Quartet on arrangements by Jorge Calandrelli, who has slowed the tempos to give the singer time to give intimate interpretations to the lyrics of songs like "Mood Indigo" and "Sophisticated Lady." Especially impressive are the less familiar tunes, such as "Azure" and "Day Dream." The slowest tunes also leave room for expressive solos by trombonist Al Grey and trumpeter Wynton Maralis ("Mood Indigo") and violinist Joel Smirnoff ("Sophisticated Lady"). Marsalis even gets his own tune, "Chelsea Bridge," to himself, which means, oddly, that on an album called Bennett Sings Ellington, there is a track on which Bennett does not sing and that was not written by Ellington! ("Chelsea Bridge" was composed by Ellington's partner Billy Strayhorn.) When you hear it, though, it's hard to complain. Less effective is the decision to stick short excerpts of "Take the 'A' Train" (never heard in its entirety) in between many of the tracks. But the main pleasure here is found in Bennett's vocals. In his early seventies, he probably couldn't have belted these songs if they'd been played in more demonstrative ways, but he gets a lot of out them in his breathy, conversational style.

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