Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 is a tribute album with highs and lows

This live album recording brings together a starry line-up of singers from different genres and generations, from Elton John and Billy Joel to Michael Buble and Diana Krall, to celebrate a jazz legend. The concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall on Sept 15 was shown on broadcast network NBC on Dec 20.

Despite the stellar programme, the results are mixed, depending on the singer and the delivery, as well as the listener's tolerance for assorted stylistic tics.

Lady Gaga, who collaborated with Bennett on their 2014 album Cheek To Cheek, gets things off to a rousing start with The Lady Is A Tramp.

She swings lightly, bolstered by a classic big band setting, and works in a snatch of snarky Brooklynese accent ("oy-min oyn pearls") and sass, sneaking in a line of dialogue ("Help me Tony baby, I need the money") before singing "I'm so broke".

  • JAZZ

  • TONY BENNETT CELEBRATES 90

    Various artists

    Columbia

    3.5/5 stars

But her La Vie En Rose, delivered half in French (with a forgotten lyric which she brazens out by singing "something") and half in English, sounds mannered and stilted despite her hearty belting.

k.d. lang, who partnered Bennett for 2002's A Wonderful World, fares much better with her reprise of A Kiss To Build A Dream On from that album. Relaxed and silken, her easy croon oozes satiny, effortless seduction before building to a climactic belt, just to show she can reach the rafters too if she wanted.

Faring less well are opera singer Andrea Bocelli's stickily sentimental Ave Maria and Rufus Wainwright's vibrato-laden, overly emo I Can't Give You Anything But Love, which tips over into comatose with its deliberately slow delivery.

Bennett himself comes on for five well-considered standards.

His belting is marred by some wobbly high notes, although his voice is admirably sturdy given his age. His storytelling skills, honed by years of performing, more than makes up for technical shortcomings.

A worthy constellation to celebrate a star who has burnt bright and continues to do so.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Tribute album with highs and lows'. Print Edition | Subscribe