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Alan Bergman: Lyrically, Alan Bergman

Husband-and-wife lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman occupy a unique niche among songwriters, arriving on the music scene at a time when the careers of most of the leadings craftsmen of the Great American Songbook-Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein-were either ending or over. The popmeisters populating the Brill Building, Phil Spector, and the folks at the heart of the folk movement ruled the roost, only to be replaced by the maestros of rock, disco and, ultimately, rap. Yet, the Bergmans stayed (and still continue) on the path of the masters, shaping many of the most beautiful and enduring standards of the past half-century. Their compositions, co-written with the likes of Johnny Mandel, Michel Legrand, Dave Grusin and Marvin Hamlisch, have garnered 16 Academy Award nominations, three Oscars, four Emmys and two Grammys. They’ve also earned million-seller hits for the likes of Sinatra, Streisand and Neil Diamond.

Never before, though, has the remarkable Bergman canon been as lovingly or enticingly examined as in this 13-track assortment, with Alan himself on vocals, backed by a primo rhythm section comprising bassist Christian McBride, drummer Jeff Hamilton, trumpeter Till Brönner and pianist Frank Chastenier (with Randy Waldman subbing on two tracks). Bergman’s voice is a revelation, suggesting both the wise, elder Sinatra and the astutely mellow Fred Astaire, with a touch of the offbeat dreaminess of Chet Baker. Encased in wistful arrangements that emphasize lyrical steak over production sizzle, such familiar fare as “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” “The Summer Knows,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and “The Way We Were” is freed from the showier grandeur of the versions we’re all familiar with, while such lesser-known delights as “Love Like Ours,” “What Matters Most,” “I’ll Be There” and the delightfully ebullient “That Face” (originally written for Astaire) are given precisely the caring, caressing treatment they deserve.

Originally Published