Ella with the London Symphony Orchestra (CD review)

"Someone to Watch Over Me." Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; James Morgan, Jorge Calandrelli, London Symphony Orchestra. Verve B002729702.

For those youngsters not familiar with Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996), I quote from Wikipedia: She "was an American jazz singer sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, intonation, and a 'horn-like' improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing." She began her career in the 1930's and hit her peak of popularity in the 1940's through 1970's.

Now, here's what makes this Verve Records collection a little different from the many albums, singles, and box sets that have come before it. It's a hybrid. It's one of those digital concoctions that combines older recordings with new ones. In this case, the album takes some of Ms. Fitzgerald's most-famous recordings, cleans them up, and provides them with lush, new accompaniments courtesy of the London Symphony Orchestra. While it's unfortunate the producers do not provide any recording dates, one may infer that the vocals come the 1950's and the LSO from around the time of the album's release, 2017.

The program's only drawback is that as with so many other pop albums it includes only a dozen tracks. That's less than forty-some minutes on a compact disc capable of carrying twice that amount of material. But I'm quibbling to complain when the results are so good.

Here's a list of the contents:
  1. People Will Say We're in Love (with Gregory Porter)
  2. Someone to Watch Over Me
  3. They Can't Take That Away From Me (with Louis Armstrong)
  4. Bewitched
  5. I Get a Kick Out of You
  6. Misty
  7. Makin' Whoopee!
  8. These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)
  9. Let's Call the Whole Thing Off (with Louis Armstrong)
10. What Is There To Say
11. Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)
12. With a Song in My Heart

Ella Fitzgerald
So, how well does all this hold up? Pretty well, actually. Some listeners may carp about some of the song choices, a purely subjective reaction; others like me may complain about the meager number of selections. Nevertheless, there can hardly be any dispute about the content. Ms. Fitzgerald's voice was at its best: smooth, rich, nuanced, and heartfelt. More important for this particular blend of old and new, the old vocals are seamlessly integrated with the new orchestral accompaniment. Yes, the voice does sound a bit too big and forward, so the imaging is more pop than audiophile. I doubt anyone will notice or care.

Favorites? Of course. The opening number, "People Will Say We're in Love," a Rodgers and Hammerstein song, featuring Ella with Gregory Porter, is wonderfully upbeat. Yet that's followed by an even better number, Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," in probably the best rendition ever given it. Another Gershwin track, "They Can't Take That Away from Me," is made all the more welcome as a duet with the great Louis Armstrong, and for me it's probably the highlight of the program.

And so it goes. Along the way, there are great versions of "Misty"; "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," again with Louis Armstrong that's a delight; and Cole Porter's "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)." Once more, I just wish there were additional tunes. And I wish the booklet insert had said something more about them. Oh, well....

Verve Records, which Ms. Fitgerald's old manager founded in 1956 and which boasts one of the biggest jazz catalogues in the business, if not THE biggest, fails, as I said, to provide any information anywhere about the original recording dates of Ms. Fitzgerald's vocals. However, they do indicate that the LSO accompaniments were probably done in or around the disc's release date, 2017. Anyway, producers James Morgan and Juliette Pochin made the album for Morgan Pochin Productions and Verve Records. Steve Price recorded the LSO at Abbey Road Studios, London, with some additional solo upright bass and drums recorded by Ben Robbins at Umbrella Sound, London.

The sonics are big and clear in a pop recording sort of way. The voices are well integrated with the orchestra, as I've said, and one might be forgiven for not realizing the vocals and orchestra were recorded some fifty or sixty years apart. The LSO, especially, appears dynamic, well focused, and reasonably transparent. It's a pleasurable accomplishment.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa