No doubt fueled by Kurt Elling’s Grammy-winning reinterpretation of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, attempted replication of classic vocal albums is becoming an increasingly popular pastime. But Elling’s is an exceptional case because he fully, cleverly re-imagined the 1963 gem. Retreads are rarely so satisfying, at least not when held up against the originals. The latest such project finds vocalist Allan Harris teamed with pianist Takana Miyamoto to revisit 1975’s The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album. Actually it’s a bit of a hybrid, incorporating nine of the 10 selections from the 1975 disc, but jettisoning “When in Rome” in favor of “You Must Believe in Spring” from Bennett and Evans’ 1977 reunion, Together Again.
Though such initiatives all but demand it, comparison is futile. Harris is far more a product of the Nat King Cole school of vocalists; indeed the tonal and stylistic similarities are remarkable. Miyamoto is an accomplished, imaginative pianist, and is particularly skilled at working with singers (Nnenna Freelon, René Marie and Kevin Mahogany among them), but she’s not Bill Evans, nor does she desire to be. Like Coltrane and Hartman, Evans and Bennett achieved a rare chemistry that Harris and Miyamoto simply can’t duplicate.
Still, if taken as simply a collection of voice-and-piano standards, freed from historic ties, Convergence succeeds. Harris is a fine interpreter, tremendously adept at penetrating a song’s emotional heart, and Miyamoto proves a most sympathetic partner, particularly on the lilting “Waltz for Debby” and hauntingly beautiful “Some Other Time.”