Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald Ella and Louis Again
Ella Fitzgerald Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!
f I were forced to make the case for someone, anyone, to be crowned the greatest jazz singer ever, I could most easily make it for Ella Fitzgerald (I would simultaneously have to relegate Frank Sinatra to the "pop" category). Her career was long and rich. She recorded iconic albums with the best jazz musicians and arrangers of her day and collections of tunes from the twentieth century's most renowned songwriters. Her vast discography bursts with classics spanning more than four decades. She possessed a pellucid voice and wide range, she enunciated perfectly, and she could keep up with the most swinging sidemen. What she lacked in emotive powers she made up for with sheer joy, which even her lesser recordings demonstrated. The sun always seemed to be shining when Ella was in front of the microphone.
Ella and Louis Again was one of five LPs she recorded in 1957. A collection of duets with Louis Armstrong, another sunny presence, it was the follow-up to 1956's Ella and Louis. The two of them had recorded together in the 1940s, but it was this pair of later albums that cemented their unique interplay -- gravely voiced Armstrong adding some yang to Ella's crystal-clear yin. Armstrong plays very few trumpet solos, which is only a minor concern given the tight, friendly vocal interplay he and Ella have on this collection of standards. The star power doesn't end at the top of the marquee. The backing ensemble includes Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Buddy Rich.
Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! was recorded four years later. The title number sets the high-spirited tone, the backing quartet, featuring the underappreciated Herb Ellis on guitar and Stan Levey on drums, carving a driving path on these tunes, all written between the early 1930s and the end of WWII, the heyday of swing. There is some inventive progression from earlier sets, most notably on a pair of jazz standards for which lyrics were an afterthought, Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" and Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight."
More progression: Ella and Louis Again was recorded in mono and Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! in stereo. The former sounds warm and well focused, although somewhat remote in terms of its perspective and modest dynamics, while the latter has the backing musicians locked in the right and left channels, with Ella vividly holding down the center. As is standard for Speakers Corner pressings, the vinyl is thick, lustrous and CD quiet. You can hear tape hiss start and stop, but nothing untoward from the velvety vinyl itself.
Judging by the profusion of her albums that are reissued on LP, Ella Fitzgerald remains almost as popular today as she was in the '50s and '60s. There's something special about hearing her on vinyl, especially when it's pressed with the exacting care of these records.
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