A twenty eight year old pop singer, with a reputation for being more of an art product than an artist, rushes outside the world of pop, to meet Tony Bennett for this album—Tony Bennett, who as a seasoned eighty eight year old jazz singer, showered with Grammys, is 180 degrees from Lady Gaga. You can’t help but wonder, ‘what’s going on here?’ Why this collaborative album from two such contrasting personalities and singers; and why is it devoted to highlights from the great American songbook? Supposedly because Lady Gaga was stuck in a deep existential crisis when she encountered Tony Bennett, the greatest singer on this planet, who consoled her, and being flattered by the compliment, became an extremely gallant father figure to her. Most importantly, he showed her the only safe way out of this crisis of spirit. Lady Gaga must leave her existence as an art object and exit the self-created world where she has been extremely successful, at least for some time, to find solace and healing in the real, down-to-earth, world of jazz. And best of all there was the outstretched hand of Tony Bennett. That said, we next find the two of them together in a New York studio, standing in front of the mics, producing the collaborative album, ‘Cheek to Cheek.’ And lo and behold, no more talk of a crisis of the spirit. It’s all love, peace, and harmony. Whether the story is true, or just clever marketing, remains to be seen. Anyway, while it’s almost too good to be true, it’s absolutely heartwarming nonetheless.
There is no one better than Tony Bennett for bringing songs from the great American songbook back to life and providing the spark again and again. He has successfully done this for decades. What you need, besides a voice trained in swing, is a band of competent musicians. Playing on ‘Cheek to Cheek’ are the members of Bennett’s quartet – Mike Renzi, Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood, and Harold Jones – along with pianist Tom Lanier. Joining the party are jazz trumpeter Brian Newman, who has a friendly relationship with Lady Gaga, and his New York jazz quintet. And along with these artists are numerous sworn to jazz studio musicians, among them tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and until the beginning of July, the late flute virtuoso Paul Horn.
There’s nothing new about songs from the American songbook being presented by a duo, as they are on ‘Cheek to Cheek.’ However, combining a jazz voice with a garish and notoriously ugly pop voice is new, and fairly blatant. But the operative phrase that probably applies here is that nothing is impossible. Not only that, but in the case of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, it works surprisingly well. This is due to Lady Gaga, who can obviously do more than sing weird pop songs. No doubt, the girl can sing. And this she demonstrates particularly on the faster songs, with and without Tony Bennett, whose enthusiasm is contagious and alive; and whose relaxed, soft phrasing strikingly contrasts with Lady Gaga’s wild approach.
The slower and somewhat quieter songs aren’t, however, the big hits on the album. Sung by Lady Gaga they lack expressiveness, substance, and styling – things that distinguish great jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and make them unique. All of this would maybe grow over the years should she stay the course in jazz. And, actually, she would like to release a jazz album a year after the positive experience with Tony Bennett. So, let us be surprised.
Lady Gaga cheek to check with Tony Bennett on a light and easy jazz course. This is the framework within which the album ‘Cheek to Cheek’ is realized. Quite surprisingly, these two very different singers – the elder with sixty years of experience before crossing paths with the younger – give us a record filled with charm and obvious affection. A pleasant album you should most definitely hear.
Sampling rate: 96 kHz verified
Bit depth 24 bit: okay
The available technical spectrum is fully utilized.