A SINGER'S nothing and nowhere without a good song. But then, where would a song be without someone who knows how to treat it right? Here's a six-pack sampler of what can happen when singer and song are happily matched:
MAXINE SULLIVAN --
"Together: Maxine Sullivan Sings the Music of Jule Styne with the Keith Ingham Sextet" (Atlantic 81783). One of the most enjoyable recent jazz vocal releases is this set of Sullivan singing Styne standards and surprises. It's the last record Sullivan made before she died in April; even at age 76, her voice and elegantly simple phrasing exuded warmth and a gracious authority. Such Styne songs as the 1926 "Sunday" to the 1983 "Killing Time" offer a fine testimonial to her. (Sullivan also recently recorded fine collections of songs by Harold Arlen and Burton Lane for Atlantic Jazz.)
TONY BENNETT --
"Bennett/Berlin" (Columbia 44029). As the grand old man of American popular song nears his 100th birthday, every singer worth his or her salt seems to be weighing in with an Irving Berlin sampler. Tony Bennett takes a distinctive approach, offering austere jazz stylings of a primarily pensive selection of songs, like "The Song Is Ended" (graced by a Dizzy Gillespie trumpet filigree) and "Let's Face the Music and Dance." Bennett sounds relaxed, comfortable and affectionate toward the material, though his voice is noticeably weathered. As the LP closes, Dexter Gordon decorates a distinctly blue "White Christmas" with saxophone icing.
TONI TENNILLE --
"All of Me" (Gaia 13 9001). Though The Captain & Tennille's pop career fizzled, singer Toni Tennille deserves a second chance. "All of Me," her second LP of well-chosen, sensitively approached pop standards, puts the overhyped efforts of Linda Ronstadt and other big-bandwagon-jumpers to shame. Tennille has the range and power to do justice to the 11 classics here, including "Moonglow," "They All Laughed" and "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe," and she does lovely work (except for a tendency to go just a shade flat on some of the slower numbers). The album was arranged and produced by husband Daryl Dragon (The Captain), and if some of the tracks are a bit overdressed, Dragon creates an appealing equation of live instruments and electronics.
BILLY ECKSTINE --
"Billy Eckstine sings with Benny Carter" (Emarcy 832-011). The first recorded meeting of vocalist Billy Eckstine with hornman Benny Carter goes just swell, as the two sit down and casually chew over a platter of classics. Eckstine sounds fine, though his longevity is showing -- he has a tendency to overemphasize words,which makes him sound like a male Carol Channing. The pairing, backed by pianist Bobby Tucker and his trio, provides a reason for listening yet again to warhorses like "My Funny Valentine," "Summertime," even poor old "Over the Rainbow." Helen Merrill is the "guest vocalist," and to these ears, she's the nicest thing to listen to here, opening the album with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and closing it with "Didn't We."
VARIOUS ARTISTS --
"The 1940s: The Singers" (Columbia CJ 40652). Here's your chance to hear Maxine Sullivan in her heyday, doing "St. Louis Blues" in 1940. Let's see, some quick math puts her at age 29 then, and she sounds sweet and pure. This well-considered, 16-track Columbia compilation also cleans up vintage tracks by Joe Turner ("Low Down Dirty Shame Blues"), Cab Calloway ("Topsy Turvy"), Billie Holiday ("All of Me") and Sarah Vaughan's "Summertime."
VARIOUS ARTISTS --
"The 1950s: The Singers" (Columbia CJ 40799). The '50s saw the waning of the "band singers," as new recording technology and the microphone changed singing styles forever. But some hot stuff remains in the grooves, digitally remastered from the original tapes. Included among these 13 top-flight tracks are Louis Armstrong's vividly gritty "Mack The Knife," Joe Williams' "Hey! Bartender, Give That Man a Drink," and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, "vocalesing" on "Charleston Alley." You'll learn something.