CD Review: LOVE IS HERE TO STAY: TONY BENNETT & DIANA KRALL (Verve and Columbia)

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by Tony Frankel on November 9, 2018

in CD-DVD,Music

PLEASE TELL ME LOVE ISN’T HERE TO STAY

Jazz-light comes a callin’ with Tony Bennett and Diana Krall’s latest effort, 12 tracks of George Gershwin tunes that have been playing the hit parade since they were written in the 20s and 30s. The majority have lyrics by brother Ira, and many were introduced by Fred Astaire, either on Broadway or in film. Ever since Long-Playing records came into being, all-Gershwin albums have never gone out of style (Michael Feinstein has three), but few can compare with Ella Fitzgerald’s 1950 Ella Sings Gershwin (her first studio album) and Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book for which Nelson Riddle arranged 59 songs. (Ira Gershwin said, “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”) Additionally, jukebox musicals such as Crazy for You (1992) and Nice Work If You Can Get It (2012) have thrived using only Gershwin songs.

It makes sense that so many jazz musicians turn to Gershwin: that jazz sensibility of the 1920s and 30s is keenly felt throughout his body of work. “One of the things [George] made a point of was being an American composer,” says Gershwin scholar Edward Jablonski. “Jazz was an American music and so whatever he felt in the music, he based his own writing on. And apparently, the wonderful structures that he made, real jazz musicians love also.”

Jazz music impresario Norman Granz must have instinctively known this by engaging Ella to start her solo debut cutting all-Gershwin tracks. But the label Granz founded, Verve, seems only concerned with packaging these days, because Love Is Here to Stay has some of the most white-bread vocals I’ve heard in a while. I can see the thought behind the pairing of Bennett and Krall with the “he gives her sophistication, she gives him sex” kinda thing, but they ain’t dancing here like Fred and Ginger. Sure, it’s amazing that Bennett, who still does that chuckle sound, has a little bit of vibrato and a sort of spry scratchy spunk at 92 years, but he’s scooping more, trailing off, and resorting to the Rex Harrison trick, adding a talking/singing thing that I would prefer from a drunk uncle at a wedding party. I suppose that’s cute to the target audience — I’m guessing women over 60? — but it’s sad for jazz lovers. (He really sings very little overall on 11 of the 12 tracks — less than ten minutes total, I’d say; you do the math.)

And Krall, frankly, has never been a great singer (unless you’re into that run-of-the-mill, innocuous, breathy, sex-kitten thing) and her derivative keyboard playing has always been so-so (when she first came on the scene in the 80s — when updated standards were still scarce — her stuff was perfect for background music). But now she’s one of the jazz world’s most popular stars? Sorry, her fame eludes me.

After track five, the dull-as-dishwater title track, I was about to order some Geritol with caffeine on Amazon, but I sat up for the following: “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Krall, who has been quite good up to now, suddenly sounds more than amazing on piano with some severely awesome accompaniment and fantastically skittish fingerwork. There’s also some astounding drum-brushing, and classic bum-bum-bass, but what’s weird is that as soon as we’re in the groove, it stops at 1:59 — as if that’s all the energy they had. Even weirder is that hidden in tiny letters on the bottom of the CD Cover: “With the Bill Charlap Trio.” No wonder why Krall sounded so hot, that wasn’t her! It was the amazing son of Broadway composer Moose Charlap with his regulars Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums). The good news is that the stars of this pathetic retread of an album had to get back to their lives, touring and what not, so they only had time to lay down about 37 minutes of music. Now if Verve would market this as music-minus-one, I’d love to hear someone else, even me, sing along with the great Bill Charlap trio.

photos by Mark Seliger

Love Is Here to Stay
Verve and Columbia
Tony Bennett & Diana Krall with the Bill Charlap Trio
released on September 14, 2018 | 12 tracks | 37:02
available on iTunes and Amazon

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