A year ago, the c.d. "Ray Charles Sings, Count Basie Swings" was released and was heavily featured at your local Starbucks. I heard it, didn't much care for it, and refused to review it for reasons stated below.
Now Concord has gone and done the same thing: released 10 Ella tunes from the Pablo vault, recorded ca. 1973 and never before released; and the c.d. again, currently, is prominently displayed at your local Starbucks.
I for one object to this crypt-robbing. It would be one thing if this were an artist like Herbie Nichols from 50 years ago--i.e., a total unknown when alive whose recorded output was miraculously discovered and released posthumously, to people who could marvel and be saddened by the artist's undeserved obscurity. But obviously, Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald are not anything like Herbie Nichols. Chances are great, no matter what Concord or Pablo may say, that if the album wasn't released 30+ years ago, there's a good reason why.
And my first guess would be: because the artist wanted it that way.
All of that grousing aside, IMO unlike the Bro. Ray c.d. of last year, there is some really good stuff on this c.d.
"Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" features a kick-butt Basie arrangement, way more swinging than anything on last year's Charles' c.d. "The One I Love" has a cool duet with the preeminent Joe Pass. Likewise, "Take Love Easy" with both Pass and the London Symphony Orchestra gets Ella going in a cool, scatting groove.
But by 1973, Ella was slightly past her prime. She was about 59 years old or so, and she was starting to develop a slight wobble in her midrange. (Though, I didn't notice it in her live album, recorded at Carnegie Hall at the Newport Festival, later that year--and that was a superlative album) I'm sure Ella wouldn't have wanted the public to hear that. In her prime, one could tune a tuning fork to her, and that's hard to do against a wobble. And, this is an uneven c.d.--some of the other arrangements aren't especially inspiring.
Down Beat recently rated this c.d. at 3 stars, and called it "non-essential Ella." Agreed--especially compared with the songbook series, the recordings from the '50's with Louis Armstrong, the recordings from the '50's with Duke Ellington, or even the later Live at Berlin recording.
The most-stated argument for releasing a project like this is: "Even if it is non-essential Ella, it's better than most anything else out there." Truthfully, about 10 years ago I would have agreed. But since 1997, so many young or youngish female jazz singers have entered the market with superlative c.d.'s, that I don't agree any more. I'd rather see re-mastered releases of things like the songbook series than crypt-robbing such as this. RC