Not many singers can claim a career that not only includes singing with Lionel Hampton but also recording with the three tenors, and Sylvia Bennett has done just that — but there’s a catch. She did spend years performing and recording with Hampton, but although her new album, Songs From The Heart, features ‘The Three Tenors’, it’s not the operatic variety. She is instead joined by three guys who happen to play tenor saxophone.
Appearing with her on the album are the late Boots Randolph, Ed Calle, and Kirk Whalum, and I think we can forgive her for the play on words, because all three are very good at what they do — as is Sylvia. In fact, there’s something like a dozen Grammy nominations spread among the performers here, with Sylvia’s own coming from her collaboration with Hampton and his orchestra.
Sylvia has always surrounded herself with good musicians during her three-decade career, and this album is no exception. In addition to the previously mentioned ‘tenors’, she also enlists the aid of a number of other outstanding pros, including another Grammy nominee, percussionist Sammy Figueros.
The album is a very nice collection of jazz standards, all love songs as might be intuited from the title, and Sylvia knows exactly how to handle the vocal chores on this kind of music. Her voice is warm and confident, a mature soprano that is perfeclty suited to the material, and the added attraction of her co-stars makes it pretty special. After all, torch singers and soft, soaring sax play are a natural fit.
The 12 tracks on the album are mostly familiar standards, including “Embraceable You,” with Sylvia backed by Randolph, “My Funny Valentine,” which features Calle doing the honors, and “You Make Me Feel So Young,” with Whalum taking a turn.
The most interesting piece is probably a song that was immortalized by Sixties R&B singer Lennie Welch, “Since I Fell For You,” which combines the backing of all three saxmen and Sylvia’s very nice vocalization. It’s just one of many nice performances on the album — another is her version of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” which was probably my favorite of all.
A nice collection of timeless jazz standards — recommended.