Ella Fitzgerald; Oscar Peterson
Original Jazz Classics Remasters OJC-32693-02 www.concordmusicgroup.com
Even with less than essential bonus material, “Ella and Oscar” – recorded May 19, 1975 – is a welcome reissue that warrants repeated listening. Bassist Ray Brown, closely associated to both artists, appears on four tracks, but this is a decidedly duo effort that focuses on two close friends who happened to be among jazz’s most historic figures. To imply that Ella was at her vocal best here would be dishonest; at the time, 58-year-old Fitzgerald’s failing health caused a golden voice that was previously 24-karat to tarnish; for the first time in her career she sounded less than effortless. Thankfully there was more to the First Lady of Song than a pretty voice: there was improvisational prowess, sensational swing, delectable joy and a chameleonic hypersensitivity to her musical surroundings. Ella’s finest moments here are sumptuously spontaneous, from the miraculously phrased Midnight Sun to the mighty fine I Hear Music. Each and every ballad is enhanced considerably by Peterson’s performance, which is pitch-perfect throughout. Expectedly, O.P. brightly dazzles on every solo taken, and as accompanist, he displays an acute sensitivity that was arguably lacking in his early years. The album’s most charming tracks are an 8½-minute exploration of April in Paris that flies by in executive first class, and a lively When Your Lover Has Gone, boasting glorious four-bar trades between voice and piano that will likely never be equalled. Turn up the volume and you will hear Ella and Oscar smiling.