Tony Bennett & Count Basie: Ol' Man River
Ol' Man River
Together at Last / A Perfect Combination: The Complete Sessions 1958-1959 (Jasmine JASCD 482)
Wendell Culley, Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Snooky Young (trumpets), Henry Coker, Al Grey, Benny Powell (trombones), Marshall Royal (clarinet, alto sax), Frank Foster, Billy Mitchell (tenor saxes), Charlie Fowlkes (baritone sax), Freddie Green (guitar), Eddie Jones (bass), Sonny Payne (drums).
Composed by Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II.
Recorded: New York, December 30, 1958
Rating: 94/100 (learn more)
Antonio Benedetto of Astoria, NY, might have sung bel canto, but Tony Bennett (as he became) actually loved to "rock his baby 'round to Ellington or Basie." And Tony's first chance to work a stage with the Basie Band came in November 1958, when the dual forces tried to record a live club date together. Whatever went wrong, Bennett and the orchestra instead wound up back in Columbia's studios, where applause and crowd noise were added to the new session results to simulate that "live" atmosphere, but where all definitely went right otherwise. Fifty years on, the album is still a highlight of Tony's storied, ongoing career, and the churning performance of "Ol' Man River" the linchpin climax of it (the original LP, that is), coming hard-on-the-heels of a happily gate-swinging version of "Lullaby of Broadway," and the two linked by rowdy crowd excitement.
The available CD has removed those extraneous sounds, but the "River" arrangement's surprising approach is preserved: swirling flute from Frank Wess, hot sparks of brass, the surging rhythm of the vaunted Basie machine (even with Bennett's accompanist Ralph Sharon filling in for the absent Count), and Gatling-gun percussion courtesy of guest conguero Candido Camero (including his speed-changing solo), all taken at an up, way up tempo that makes shambles of the Showboat tune's funereal tread, and that Bennett rides with ease. If there's an unspoken subtext here—the racial plot of the original musical, which featured Paul Robeson as rumbling stevedore singer; that profoundly basso vocalist and the Basie mob later flailing like punchy boxers in their one attempt at a recording ("King Joe [The Joe Louis Blues] " was the 78)—well, let the Broadway babies rock it, because Riverboat Tony and the Bargin' Basie Gang made this version dance.
Reviewer: Ed Leimbacher