Ella & Basie '79: The Perfect Match

Mark Sabbatini By

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Norman Granz' Jazz in Montreux
Ella & Basie '79: The Perfect Match

Eagle Rock Entertainment
64 minutes

This disc is lucky to emerge from the flames of failed expectations and end up merely average.

Ella & Basie '79: The Perfect Match is an 85-minute concert DVD whose very title is misleading - Count Basie appears for only one song at the end of a good, not great, performance by Ella Fitzgerald at the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival. The rest of the time she's backed by her working trio and Basie's orchestra. Factor in a notable lack of extras and mediocre production that makes it look and sound like the budget title it is and what's left is a disc for Fitzgerald fans who don't already have the previously released album of the concert.

On the other hand, this is the only affordable concert by Fitzgerald captured on video I'm aware of (segments of various performances appear on documentaries and other films on DVD and VHS), boosting its worthiness somewhat. There's no question her fans can watch this and reassure themselves she is indeed a legend, and new viewers sharing the experience will agree she can swing. Just make sure the newbies also hear something like her Gershwin Songbook so they get full exposure to her talent.

The film is one of several from the festival by Norman Granz, who gets as much billing as the musicians in the DVD's printed material and is profiled briefly in the only extra feature of substance. His simple up-close work is positive in an organic way, but production is a letdown, especially uneven audio that makes narratives nearly inaudible and music deafening at the same volume setting.

Fitzgerald mostly keeps things moving along quickly for the crowd, with much if by no means all of the energy and chops of earlier days, but it's the slow and husky ballad "Round Midnight" that might be the most rewarding track here. "Sweet Georgia Brown" is a decent tempo-setting opening (the brief, near- throwaway performance of the actual first song, "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," induces momentary visions of impending disaster). The best overall stretch comes when Fitzgerald and her trio leave the orchestra behind for several mid-concert songs, where pianist Paul Smith in particular gets a chance to stand out on pieces like "Dindi" and "Fine And Mellow."

Basie appears and plays a fine opening for "B & E (Basella), A-Tisket, A-Tasket," but is quickly lost in the mix of the orchestra and then watches from the stage as Fitzgerald closes the concert with "I've Got A Crush On You." Interestingly, it's some of the uncredited musicians in Basie's orchestra who emerge on "B & E" with engaging performances on sax and trumpet, with Fitzgerald doing some crowd-pleasing scat interaction on the latter. An hour of this and the disc would indeed live up to its billing. Instead viewers are likely to feel cheated and wonder what might have been.

Tracks: Presentation By Nat Hentoff; Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone ; Sweet Georgia Brown; Some Other Spring; Make Me Rainbows; After You've Gone; Round Midnight; Dindi; Fine & Mellow; (I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You; Flying Home; You've Changed; Honeysuckle Rose; St. Louis Blues; B & E (Basella), A-Tisket, A-Tasket; I've Got A Crush On You.

Personnel: Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Count Basie, piano; Paul Smith, piano; Mickey Roker, drums; Keter Betts, bass. Also features the Count Basie Orchestra.

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