Cheek To Cheek 

Streamline Records via Columbia

Danny Bennett is one lucky cat – he gets to produce the recordings by his Dad, Tony Bennett. Just a few weeks ago, we are at Bennett’s show at Royal Festival Hall in London, in which he fronted a sharp quartet of New York jazzers  and coasted through his songbook, taking in some obscure songs among the hits..because he likes them, that’s why…

At the end of the show, Bennett puts down the mike and calls his ace guitar man forward. He sings unamplified against the gentlest of chordal ripples and he fills the hall. Quality and style and in his late Eighties, Bennett is still a gripping entertainer. He mentions this very release and pleads with his audience – “ please buy it, when it comes out – she needs the money ! “

A clue to Tony’s art is IN his (pictorial) art, his splendid paintings use bold colours BUT Bennett knows when to stop, when enough is enough. Hence when singing he doesn’t shout, yell or twist notes every which way. Much in the way that George Shearing plays melodic piano without camp flourishes, Bennett puts the song over with joy and punch but never overkill. This is why his Duets albums work so well – whoever the artist is, he puts them at ease and they sound themselves but lifted into a harmonious pairing. It’s a generous stance, letting the guest sing out however it is a facet that really fine musicians attain and retain.

On the edition I have of this album there are eighteen tracks, allowing for some solo stints by both singers but it’s mainly creamy and lightfooted duets.

‘Anything Goes’ sets the tone, pure 50s lounge band backing with lots of trombone counterpoints and swinging piano, Gene Krupa style drumming and standup bass runs. The voices swoop and blend and the enthusiasm is 3-D. Gaga is especially good on ‘Cheek To Cheek’ where the key is spot on and the skittering piano figures waltz through the brush drumming, Bennett chipping in rich asides. How could anyone listen to this and not smile, snap the fingers or tap the toes ?

It’s two spirited vocalists albeit from different eras but the connection is the love of the songs and mode of delivery ; the misty string runs on ‘Don’t Wait Too Long’ are as mobile as they are melodic ; elsewhere nifty guitar solo’s appear from nowhere and spill their Charlie Byrd tone around the chord changes. The jaunty take on ‘FireFly’ stands out among the more obvious selections and Bennett gives it his all, Gaga stepping up to match his snappy approach ; ‘I Won’t Dance’ is of course the ‘I’m Not In Love’ of the Swing Era and how fine the voice sound on this track, grainy horn interludes float over the syncopated rhythm. Bennett solo tackles ‘On A Clear Day’ and makes very word matter, as is his leaning. The song sounds brand new. Lady Gag brings a knowing touch to the Hammond organ-based arrangement of ‘Bewitched Bothered & Bewildered’ over the intro and then lets it all go on the verses, boy how she has soaked up the lounge delivery..this could be Lena Horne in its phrasing.  ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’ wraps things up in great style.

So, old music delivered by a possibly bizarre pairing that sounds better than most other attempts at keeping this genre going – every single selection works and so credit to all

Pete Sargeant