Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek

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Posted February 19, 2015 by in Jazz
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Rating

Overall
 
 
 
 
 

3/ 5

Details

Genre:
 
Producer:
 
Label: ,
 
 
 
 
Genre: Jazz
 
Producer: Dae Bennett
 
Label: Streamline Records, Columbia
 
Format: Digital download, compact disc, vinyl
 
Time: 34:43
 
Release Date: 19 September 2014
 
Spin This: "Cheek ti Cheek," "I Won't Dance"
 

Pros:

Nice serving of duets, solos and well-played traditional jazz.
 

Cons:

A bit more versatility in song selection and a better polished Gaga in this format would have ironed out the album's wrinkles
 

Hey, don’t turn the other cheek on Tony Bennett’s duet disc with Lady Gay

by J Matthew Cobb
Full Article

Hey, don’t turn the other cheek on Tony Bennett’s duet disc with Lady Gay

You may feel bewitched, bothered and bewildered knowing 88-year old pop jazz legend Tony Bennett is working alongside 28-year old Madonna pop acolyte Lady Gaga. But let’s set the record straight; this one-off was bound to take place. Gaga showed up on Bennett’s Duets II disc , singing the Rodgers/Hart classic “The Lady Is a Tramp.” The witty songbook standard struck oil as it whimsically toyed with Gaga’s risqué reputation, but most importantly exposing her to a new audience. She traveled this road before on her televised Thanksgiving special, but that was for her own bloating ego and fanbase of little monsters. This track exposed Bennett’s followers to Gaga, the saloon singer, and so the pressures from individual record labels and Bennett’s management escalated the vision of a full-length album of these experiments. That heartfelt labor of love became Cheek to Cheek, an eleven-track all-jazz collection assembled from brainstorming and exhausting cherry-picking. Gaga leaned on the arms of Bennett’s people, who pretty much knew the Great American Songbook inside and out, to find virtuous standards from the pen of George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter and Billy Strayhorn. The end result: a palatable serving of swing and traditional pop jazz showcasing what happens when you merge a seasoned veteran with a curious pop superstar who has seen better days.

As a bonus, the inside packaging of this collection is a beaut. It’s covered back and front with band personnel details and a glamorous photo shoot showcasing stunning black and white photographs by Steven Klein.

Although she has alluded in the past of having experience in high school singing in jazz bands, it’s still hard to phantom how well accustomed Gaga is to these tunes. Jazz is more than just a style you pick up, it’s a real science. And it’s one that modern pop stars typically flee from. You don’t see novices on TV’s American Idol chasing down this format often. But Gaga understands it, even if she isn’t exactly the best at it. She yells her notes on the furious uptempo opener “Anything Goes,” she runs through “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” exposing hints of boredom and she doesn’t find all the delicate nuances to make ballads like “Nature Boy” shimmer greater than Nat King Cole’s legendary take.

Thank goodness the Songbook veteran is around to prop up much of the stumbles. Although Bennett isn’t quite vocally agile to prop up those sustaining notes at his age, he sounds more organic and sophisticated, even assured, when he belts. There’s also a very competent orchestra aboard that’s fired up with luscious horns, strings and some immaculate piano playing by Alex Smith, Tom Rainer and Mike Renzi. All the surroundings, even the ambiance of Manhattan Center Studios and KAS Music & Sound and a pristine mixing process gives off big hints that maybe this was recorded during the golden era. Cheek to Cheek spins like a nostalgia record, even if Gaga sounds like a pre-schooler when placed against Nancy Wilson or the incomparable Ella.

Not everything here is sung in duet formation. Bennett sings alone on “Sophisticated Lady,” his serenade to Gaga. She takes on “Lush Life,” a song that leaks droplets of her life into its lyrics (“I used to visit all the very gay places”) right before falling into a story detailing the pain and loneliness one can experience after rejection. There’s a bit of fun here (“I Won’t Dance,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing”) and even some cool blues-jazz thrown into the mix (“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”), but much of this is routine lounge jazz. The arrangements are coy for a modern record and hardly hint at being ambitiously definite in music history. Still, to see these worlds colliding and to witness the aftermath of this scientific experiment sounding like a typical jazz record speaks to the amazing confidence Bennett has in his singing partner. It also points out the ambitions she has to do something so ballsy at this point in her career. Artists like Gaga typically don’t take these type of detours this early in the game. And even if Madonna fooled with this type of swag on one or two occasions (i.e., Dick Tracy motion picture soundtrack, the terrible “Santa Baby”), she never did a full length record with a legend of Bennett’s size. This may be the last time we hear Gaga in this setting, but she should never discount this opportunity as a blunder. Cheek to Cheek was actually okay, and that’s good.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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