Rarely do I feel the urge to play another one of the records by Norman Granz' traveling circus--the same tunes, same chord changes, same format, same musicians, same sub-par audio reproduction. But this one is the exception (the Stan Getz-J.J. Johnson edition is also pretty good) for a couple of simple, but singular, reasons: Bird and Ella. To the experienced ear, Bird flies way above the growling tenors, the screeching trumpets, the raucous crowd and demonstrates why he's the best improvisor in the history of jazz. Moreover, the audio on this session, while admittedly "lo fi," is a notch above similar outings, including the one of Bird traveling with the group in 1946. Not only does the session provide an opportunity to hear Bird play in a live, extended format, but it's unique in including him with Ella on a couple of the tunes.
This is not one of Bird's legendary, "perfect" solos on "Embraceable You," but it's a simply dazzling improvisation by him on "Lester Leaps In," light years ahead of the other musicians and in the league of Tatum's harmonies at their most complex and sophisticated. The other highlight is to hear Ella come back for the encore ("Perdido") and join it mid-stream. She's "just" another one of the jamming musicians.
After a lifetime of collecting records, an acquisition like this prevents me from stopping.