Ella's in the Room on This Double 45rpm "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!" Reissue From Analogue Productions
Before Ella's renderings, many of these tunes had faded from public consciousness and had lost their luster. These songbook albums restored these classics to their rightful place as part of America's vast cultural treasure, thanks in part to the rise of the LP format and the understanding of its organizational possibilities by visionaries like Norman Granz.
A generation brought up in the 1950s that saw the integration of American society, heard it on these songbook albums with an African-American woman re-inventing for all "the Great American Songbook." This album originally issued in 1961 has Ella in a small jazz combo setting backed by Lou Levy on piano, Herb Ellis on guitar, Gus Johnson on drums and Joe Mondragon on bass. Swinging Ella is at least as compelling as songbooking Ella, whether covering jazz titles or pop ballads from the 1940s.
Ella covers some naturally swinging tunes like the opener "Night in Tunisia" and "Jersey Bounce" and she adds swing to some tunes better known as ballads but she also covers beautifully some ballads as ballads, like the melancholic "Signing Off", "My Reverie" and "Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most."
Ella's not going to out-sultry Julie London on "Cry Me a River," but her jazzier version puts a "kiss off" edge to it that works equally well. The title tune is a fast paced swinger and the set ends with the pop ditty "Round And 'Round" with the "Spring...." ballad sandwiched in between.
Certainly pop tunes resonate more strongly if you grew up hearing the originals but for those of us too young to have done so, this set of mostly pop tunes from a bygone era can still manage to instill nostalgia for an era long gone that most of us know only from the movies.
Back in the 1990s original Verve pressings of this record were hot items pushed into prominence in great part by write-ups in The Absolute Sound, particularly by my friend Frank Doris. I found a few, and even a few in pretty good condition but none of them begin to compare to this double 45 rpm set that offers more of everything, particularly transparency and instrumental separation.
Ella lives again centered between the speakers with the backing group pushed hard left and right. Pianist Levy and guitarist Ellis share the left channel and the drums and bass the right channel. On the pleasingly warm/murky original, as my system improved, distinguishing and separating out the guitar and piano got easier. Here the two instruments occupying similar timbal territory are much easier to distinguish though again, the better your system, particularly your analog front end, the more easily the guitar and piano will be heard as separate instruments.
Ella's on a microphone with a slightly rising high end but if it sounds icy, don't blame the recording or the mastering. It's your system. If it's well-balanced and your cartridge is a good tracker, the vocal transparency and clarity are spooky and the sibilant articulation is precise.
These double 45s cut at Sterling Sound use the original tapes, not copies of the original tapes and the clarity and transparency coupled with QRP's drop dead silent pressings are remarkable. The original pre-MGM buyout LP has a pleasingly nostalgic quality and the added warmth produces a bit more room sound, but in my opinion it can't compare to this reissue unless you like hear things through rose-tinted loudspeakers.
Elegantly produced, arranged and recorded and easy to recommend, though these mostly pop confections lack the weight and gravitas of some of the "songbook" collections. Sometimes you have to live lightly.