Ella Fitzgerald

The Best of the Concert Years: Trios & Quartets

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Here is an intelligently sequenced compilation covering recordings that the great jazz singer made over a 30-year span for Norman Granz. Instead of the expected hodgepodge of tracks frantically jumping around from one concert to another, Pablo's Fantasy custodians wrap up things in four extended sequences, one from each decade. First are a pair of numbers in the acoustically suspect Santa Monica Civic Auditorium circa 1972 ("Night and Day," "Little White Lies"), where Fitzgerald has a wobble in her voice but never stops swinging for a second with the Tommy Flanagan Trio. Then it doubles back to a JATP gig in Tokyo in 1953, and a younger, smoother, almost bel canto Fitzgerald -- then still under contract to pop-minded Decca -- emerges in "Body and Soul" and "My Funny Valentine." But the swinging, joyful Fitzgerald isn't far away in "Why Don't You Do Right?" and the virtuosic scat display on "Oh Lady, Be Good" (she even does a deadly accurate impression of humming bassist Slam Stewart). With the Jimmy Jones Trio -- anchored by Duke Ellington's unstoppably swinging drummer Sam Woodyard -- Fitzgerald visits Carnegie Hall in 1967, skipping playfully through "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," while a moody vocalise treatment of Billy Strayhorn's "Day Dream" wipes everyone out. Finally it's Fitzgerald back in Tokyo in 1983 with her regular Paul Smith Trio and what a difference 30 years makes; the voice is deeper, less flexible, and fraying at the end of phrases. Unaltered, though, is the sheer joy of singing that is sensed in an exuberantly scatted "All of Me." As a single-disc summary of Fitzgerald's work fronting intimate chamber groups in concert, this is a good bet.

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