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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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ELLA FITZGERALD

Mack the Knife

Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55480

 

 


1. That Old Black Magic
2. Our Love is Here to Stay
3. Gone with the Wind
4. Misty
5. The Lady is a Tramp
6. The Man I Love
7. Summertime
8. Too Darn Hot
9. Lorelei
19. Mack the Knife
11. How High the Moon
12. Lover Come Back to Me
13. Angel Eyes
14. I'm Beginning to See the Light
15. My Heart Belongs to Daddy
16. Just One of those Things
17. I Can't Give You Anything but Love
18. Sophisticated Lady
19. Love for Sale
20. Just One of those Things

Ella Fitzgerald - Vocals
Paul Smith - Piano (tracks 1-11, 19, 20)
Jim Hall - Guitar (tracks 1-11)
Wilfred Middlebrooks - Bass (tracks 1-11)
Gus Johnson - Drums (tracks 1-18)
Lou Levy - Piano (tracks 12-18)
Max Bennett -- Bass (tracks 12-18)
Barney Kessel- Guitar (tracks 19, 20)
Joe Mondragon - Bass (tracks 19, 20)
Alvin Stoller - Drums (tracks 19, 20)

 

This 1960 concert in Berlin has been reissued many times since it was first released as an LP - sometimes with extra tracks not necessarily recorded in Berlin. This welcome version includes all the Berlin tracks plus seven from the 1959 Cannes Jazz Festival and a couple recorded at the Hollywood Bowl in 1956. Wherever and whenever they were recorded, all the songs show Ella Fitzgerald at the top of her form.

The album is most famous for her version of Mack the Knife. It was the first time she had tried singing it, following hit recordings of the song the year before by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin. Ella admits right at the start "I hope we remember all the words" but, when she becomes doubtful about the lyrics, she improvises her own. Miraculously, her new words fit the tune perfectly, even though she sings "Ella and her fellas are making a wreck of Mack the Knife" and she adds an affectionate imitation of Louis Armstrong. The whole track is a brilliant illustration of Ella's talent as an improviser. What is more, it swings beautifully.

The other famous track on the album is How High the Moon, where Ella again supplies new words at a fast tempo and then scats in her classy style, quoting such tunes as Ornithology, Hawaiian War Chant and her own hit A-Tisket, A-Tasket.

Memorable as these two performances are, the fact is that every song on the album is delivered with an equal amount of inspiration, dedication and jazz feeling. Fitzgerald performs all the songs perfectly in tune, with crystal-clear lyrics and imaginative variations. Ella's imagination is clearest in the codas to the songs, where she goes in various surprising directions without losing the tempo. Her long unaccompanied vocalising at the end of Angel Eyes is an adventurous marvel. Quite often you can hear her laughing cheerfully at her own daring.

She also injects humour into songs like Too Darn Hot, and in I Can't Give You Anything but Love she imitates Rose Murphy's chee-chee style as well as Louis Armstrong's gruff vocals. Yet Ella can also present tender ballads like The Man I Love and Sophisticated Lady with warm feeling, sounding fresh even though she may have performed these songs hundreds of times. She even turns the usually fast My Heart Belongs to Daddy into a thoughtfully slow number.

Her accompanists acquit themselves well, with particular commendation for pianists Paul Smith and Lou Levy, who manage the seemingly impossible feat of following Ella's every move, however unexpected. Paul Smith, quoted in the sleeve-note, makes light of the challenge, saying "Ella was so musical she made it very easy to play for her". Even if - as the two versions of Just One of those Things illustrate - Ella often performed the same song in a similar way, I'm sure it wasn't that easy.

At any rate, this is a classic album that deserves a place in every jazz fan's collection - and the addition of extra tracks makes this particular release even more desirable.

Tony Augarde



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