New VMEs: Ben Webster and Ella & Louis

David Rickert By

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The two most recent Verve Master Editions are similar in that they both feature the Oscar Peterson Trio as the rhythm section and both were originally recorded in 1957. They are also remastered versions of classic albums that deserve a spot in any respectable jazz collection. Here’s why:

Ella and Louis Again
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

It should come as no surprise that the first collaboration between Ella and Louis was so successful that it was quickly followed by a sequel, and a double album, no less. Even the dumbest A&R man could anticipate the potential magic in the pairing; both singers were at the peak of their popularity, straying from their jazz roots yet becoming influential and noteworthy interpreters of popular song in the process. Both share a penchant for mirthful clowning and light banter, yet Armstrong’s burnished growl and Ella’s brassy swagger couldn’t be more different and complement each other superbly. Make no mistake, this is clearly a vocal album-the only solos are Armstrong’s and they’re few and far between-yet the music choices and delivery are enough to sustain the entire package.

The first two tracks set the tone for the rest of the set with playful renditions of “Don’t Be That Way” and “Makin’ Whoopie”, two songs tailor-made for the Ella and Louis treatment. The highlight is a wistful “Autumn In New York” with a lovely vocal by Ella and a trumpet solo by Louis (although by this time, Louis was playing solos the matched peoples' expectations of what Louis sounded like, rather than bringing anything new to the table). The only misfire is “Let’s Do It”, which drags on much too long.

The second disc is slightly better than the first, due to the melancholy ballads “Willow Weep For Me” (all Armstrong) and “Ill Wind” (all Ella) and a duet on “Our Love is Here to Stay”, where Armstrong’s trumpet solo pokes through Ella’s graceful phrasing. The Oscar Peterson trio (joined by the fiery Louis Bellson) provides understated backing throughout, Peterson keeping his feistiness in check while Ellis delivers punchy chords, playing the best rhythm guitar of his career. Although calling this a jazz album is a bit of a stretch, anyone who is a fan of either of these two artists (or jazz singing for that matter) will definitely want to pick this one up.

Ben Webster

A photograph on the inside of the CD cover shows Webster with his head tilted back, eyelids drooping and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. It’s a great photo, simply because Webster approaches soloing in much the same way. A relaxed and patient improviser who first made his name with Ellington’s band playing one definitive solo after another, the tenor saxophonist really blossomed once he struck out as a solo artist where he wasn’t boxed in by the confines of the big band.

From the very first note, you know that you’re listening to Webster-he possesses a style consisted of sweeping phrases that end with a fluttering vibrato, sometimes using nothing but air-and no tune is ever taken faster than a loping gate. Befitting the title, the first two tunes are blues played with a lot of grease and vinegar, but once we get to the ballads, like “Ill Wind”, Webster creates a mood of beautiful smoky melancholy using only a handful of notes.

Like with the previous CD, the Oscar Peterson Trio provides restrained backing (Ellis getting more space than usual) with Stan Levey added to provide some light stickwork for gentle swing. Of marginal interest is the bonus tracks, which feature Webster at the piano; they’re decent enough boogie woogie, but don’t really fit in with the rest of the set. Soulville is a classic recording from one of jazz’s greatest artists, a romantic and sentimental masterpiece.

Ben Webster-Soulville
Tracks: 1. Soulville 2. Late Date 3. Time On My Hands 4. Lover, Come Back To Me 5. Where Are You? 6. Makin’ Whoopie 7. Ill Wind 8. Who 9. Boogie Woogie 10. Roses of Picardy.
Personnel: Ben Webster-tenor sax, piano on #8-10; Oscar Peterson-piano; Ray Brown-bass; Herb Ellis-guitar; Stan Levey-drums.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong-Ella and Louis Again
Tracks: Disc One: 1. Don’t Be That Way 2. Makin’ Whoopie 3. They All Laughed 4. Comes Love 5. Autumn In New York 6. Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love) 7. Stompin’ At The Savoy 8. I Won’t Dance 9. Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You? Disc Two; 1. Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off 2. These Foolish Things 3. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm 4. Willow Weep For Me 5. I’m Puttin’ All My Eggs In One Basket 6. A Fine Romance 7. Ill Wind 8. Love Is Here To Stay 9. I Get A kick Out of You 10. Learnin’ The Blues.
Personnel: Ella Fitzgerald-vocals; Louis Armstrong-vocals, trumpet; Oscar Peterson-piano; Herb Ellis-guitar; Ray Brown-bass; Louis Bellson-drums.

Verve on the web: http://www.verveinteractive.com


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