Ella And Louis Serve Up Sweet ’N’ Salty Vocals With a Side of Rich Trumpet for This Terrific Verve & Acoustic Sounds Mono 180g LP Reissue

Young music fans today may consider the notion of the celebrity duet as a modern phenomenon unique to our times. It is not. Fact is, the notion of the cross-pollinating artist duet has been around for some time. Turn back the pages of music history, and you’ll find the concept started long ago. There are many fine and interesting pairings in soul and rock & roll throughout the 20th century — more than I could possibly list here — but let us not forget how Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris made instinctive waves together for a brief spell in the 1970s, while Tom Petty paired up with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks to great popularity in the 1980s, as did Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, and you’ll also find hit 1990s duet albums from the likes of Elton John and Frank Sinatra. Much more recently, Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett have together put forth a few fine genre-mashup duet albums themselves. (See? I could go on and on.)

As for jazz, you’ll find many a dynamic duo hooking up on record. One of these legendary musical meet-ups began in the 1940s, when a young Ella Fitzgerald was connected with the already iconic Louis Armstrong, who was then at a career middle ground himself. One of the major influences on jazz overall — as well as what became known as scat vocal stylings, which Fitzgerald later helped to further popularize — the combination of Satchmo and Ella proved irresistible to the public. However, it took a number of years until they could release a full album together.

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In 1956, jazz impresario Norman Granz formed a new label called Verve Records as a fresh vehicle for promoting his rising star, Ella Fitzgerald (whom he was by then managing). So strong was his belief in her, Granz’s determined vision indeed elevated her to megastar status. One of the first projects on that journey was reconnecting her with Louis Armstrong for a full album (in mono) which was called simply Ella And Louis (Verve MGV 4003). This release proved so successful that there was a sequel, October 1957’s Ella And Louis Again. The duo scaled an artistic peak with their brilliant April 1959 interpretation of George and Ira Gershwin’s legendary 1930s opera, Porgy and Bess.

UMe, owners and caretakers of the Verve Records catalog, have again paired up with the good folks at Acoustic Sounds to deliver us a fine 1LP restoration of Ella And Louis, which lists for $38.98. As with all the Acoustic Sounds releases I’ve reviewed here on AP thus far, this new production is exemplary overall. The pressing is top-notch, manufactured on thick, dark black 180g vinyl that is quiet and well-centered.

Overall, Ella’s warm, melted-buttery voice makes for a tasty contrast when poured over Pops’ more angular salty popcorn-crunch vocals. Add in Satch’s rich round trumpet playing, and you’ve got the formula for a sweet sonic taste sensation.

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The sound on this new pressing is a wee bit on the bright side as compared to my 1950s-era copy of Ella And Louis, but I do think it sounds pretty terrific as an end-to-end listen. It must have been a particular challenge mixing and mastering this album — both back in the day, as well as today — given these were two very different vocalists recording simultaneously side-by-side in the same room. Each brought distinct dynamic qualities unique to their voices. Plus, they were recording in the then-new Capitol Records studios in Hollywood, which may have brought its own unique idiosyncrasies.

There could be any number of reasons for this brighter sound, and my first guess is it might be due to a limited amount of compression and EQ used in making the new release. The result is a more open and airy-sounding disc than the somewhat boxier sound of my original copy.

I do note there is an occasional bit of sibilance distortion apparent. I noticed it mainly on Louis’ vocals at times, such as on “Under a Blanket of Blue” and “Tenderly.” But I can’t fault this release, as I went back and listened closely to my original and it is there as well, albeit a bit reined in (likely by more EQ or compression).

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So, one must come into this listening experience knowing that it is one of those “it is what it is” type situations. Pops’ vocals sound like they were recorded pretty hot, and in a quest to create a dynamic and intimate recording perhaps he was at times a bit too close to the microphone. Or, if the engineer perhaps “rode” the microphone input levels too high into to the red, the original recording might have oversaturated a bit. Again, I don’t know this for certain, of course, as I am just speculating here. Whatever it is, I am surmising the sound is part of the recording.

(Sidenote: For those who are curious, no, I don’t own a copy of the 2011 Analog Productions 45rpm edition to compare this to, but I did spot-check the 24-bit/96kHz streaming versions on Tidal and Qobuz — and indeed, Armstrong’s husky delivery is quite sibilant at times there, while Ella’s croon remains soft and feathery.)

The backing music provided by Oscar Peterson and his band of that period — Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Buddy Rich on drums — is swinging, subtle, and supportive of the singers on this release. The music is full-bodied and rich, but definitely positioned in the background of the mix. If you close your eyes while listening to “Cheek to Cheek,” for example, it feels almost like the band is 5-10 feet behind the singers in the room.

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If you are a deeper Ella And Louis fan, you may want to try to track down an original pressing, but I suspect you're going to have a difficult time of it. I say this from experience, as I've been trying to find a clean — and affordable — copy myself for many years now. This was a popular album in its day, and — like many jazz, pop, and R&B albums of the time period — they were often played on average to sub-average equipment. Indeed, if you look at the mid-1950s editions up for sale on Discogs at the time of this posting, none are listed in better than VG-plus quality, with prices ranging upwards of $100.

The cover art for this new Verve and Acoustic Sounds edition of Ella And Louis is dramatically improved. The original album was a single-pocket sleeve design, but the new version is a far more deluxe gatefold package with a beautiful, laminated finish and elegant-looking session photos inside. They even reproduced the early orange-and-yellow Verve Records label design that graced certain pressings from this time period.

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I happen to know that particular label design mostly from some of Oscar Peterson’s easy-listening albums, but I think the original intent of the label variant was to try to establish a brand differentiation between jazz and pop-leaning releases. (My old copy of Ella And Louis is on the black Verve label, thanks for asking.)

Oh, you may be wondering why the album is in mono, and not in stereo. That's a very easy question to answer. Stereo records did not become a consumer reality until around 1958. That doesn't make this album any less of an enjoyable listening experience, however — because Ella And Louis generally sounds fabulous in mono!

Once again, UMe, through its Verve Records and Acoustic Sounds series, has delivered a reissue that is arguably better than the original in most every way. If you are a fan of these two legendary artists, you probably need this one in your collection ASAP.

(Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for AudiophileReview.com, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.)

Music Direct Buy It Now

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ELLA FITZGERALD AND LOUIS ARMSTRONG
ELLA AND LOUIS

1LP 180g mono (Verve/Acoustic Sounds)

Side A
1. Can't We Be Friends
2. Isn't This A Lovely Day
3. Moonlight In Vermont
4. They Can't Take That Away From Me
5. Under A Blanket Of Blue
6. Tenderly

Side B
1. A Foggy Day
2. Stars Fell On Alabama
3. Cheek To Cheek
4. The Nearness Of You
5. April In Paris

COMMENTS
Anton D's picture

The Esoteric SACD release of this album is spectacular.

I figure if Mo Fi can release all that digital material, it should be OK to mention this Esoteric release. It is sublimely good.

The bummer is, I think it only comes as part of this set:

https://www.discogs.com/release/16504995-Various-Verve-6-Great-Jazz

volvic's picture

I want it and keep trying to get it at a lower price, but no one seems to want to budge on the price and judging from the Miles Davis and Clifford Brown Esoteric SACD box sets that I already own, I expect it to be fabulous; Its funny your review posted today Mark, as I just heard my copy today, after the first one had to go back due to surface imperfections along with a Speakers Corner Miles Davis pressing which by the way, whatever happened to Speakers Corner quality control? Just awful these days. In any event, I thought the sound was smooth and both singers well captured. I don’t think it is as good as the 45 rpm version of a few years ago. Much better.

volvic's picture

Analogplanet, an edit choice is sorely needed (see above). This is what happens when I type during happy hour. The horror!

rich d's picture

This album is an undiluted joy from start to finish and one of mankind's greatest achievements.

If you care at all about music (I realize many audiophiles do not) you should own a copy of Ella and Louis.

A very fine weekend to you all.

jazz's picture

The very slight sibilance on those tracks in my opinion is the typical Satchmo occasional mic sibilance, not from the record.

Brightness I don’t hear at all on this release.

I have the AP 45RPM and it’s a hell lot of better sounding, more open, 3D, focused etc.

PeterPani's picture

I own several early originals. This is an all valve all analog recording and the sound on them is a straight 11.

jazz's picture

Mark has some setup issues which overemphasize certain aspects. No idea what should sound bright here for example.

But compared to the AP 45RPM I’d say the latter is an 11 and this here a 9 in my rough scale, so finally Mark is not completely wrong, given the potential upwards, he hasn’t heard yet.

An 8 for this one is too low, I agree.

AnalogJ's picture

I'd like to get the 45 (I hear they're better, perhaps even an originsal).

By the way, according to Tim Neely, this was originally released on both the black label and orange label. The black label series was oriented more towards jazz buyers, while the orange label was oriented more towards pop buyers. By putting it out using both labels, it allowed Verve to widen their market.

PeterPani's picture

I can only listen to the original pressings I own. And they are 10/11 for sure.
The Ella & Louis Again I would rate with 11/11, because Autumn in New York is one of the best ten songs of all time to me.

jeeves2nd's picture

"Plus, they were recording in the then-new Capitol Records studios in Hollywood, which may have brought its own unique idiosyncrasies."

I believe that all these 'idiosyncrasies' (whatever you are referring to) were more than ironed out through the series of incredibly high quality recordings that Sinatra , Cole and other artists made in these studios during the 4-5 years preceeding the Ella-Louis recordings in question.

SpinMark3313's picture

...my wallet.
So, three weeks ago, when the Blue Train post went up, I thought nope, don't need it. Then I went to reach for my LP copy for a listen and reminder of what version I own.
It wasn't there.
Puzzled, I looked around other parts of my collection to see if it was mis-filed.
Nope.
But I know I have it. I know the music. It's been quite awhile since I've listened, but one of the great things about AP (and some others) is the flow of reminders of great recordings, sometimes long neglected in my herd.
Finally found it. On CD.
OK - so I committed the shekels to the new Blue Train LP release.
Now, Ella and Pops. Got it!
Went to reach for the LP. There's Porgy and Bess, but where's E&L? I KNOW I HAVE IT.
Yeah, same brain fart. It's (well parts of it) on a Verve reissue of Ella & Louis highlights including tunes from "Again."
Yeah, and again I shell out more shekels on the way home today. Local Rasputin had two AP copies.
This increase of music reviews and reissue news is gonna hurt, but hurt so good.

Russo7516's picture

Is it an AAA source ?
Is it a Digital master transfer?
Is it DSD and what bit form was it done in.
Re Issues these days . As a consumer we have to ask ? I am sure Chad Isn't getting ever tape .Davis himself said it they do not release real master tapes.
I will get an SACD

jazz's picture

all the wrong answers to yourself already, so it seems that’s what you need.

rl1856's picture

I have been through several orange label copies of this title, and ALL exhibit sibilance on many tracks featuring LA. This issue is still present but diminished in intensity on Black label pressings. My conclusion is the problems are on the master tape. Verve first pressings feature an Orange Label for vocals and some "mainstream" titles, and the "trumpeter" logo for straight jazz titles. Many Verve titles were pressed "hot" and could be unplayable on the equipment of the time. Unfortunately Verve chose to recut problematic titles using compression and EQ. Bass below about 80hz and treble above about 10khz is missing. I am curious to know if Kevin Gray had access to the original tape or the later EQ modified tape.

Anton D's picture

I heard this album at a show once, played back on a pair or Rethm Bhaava speakers and, if I kept my eyes closed, it sounded like Louis was having his head squeezed right out of the speaker.

Some versions can have an overemphasize on his upper vocal range.

I think your description is apt for some pressings....or the master.

mittehifi's picture

I have an original orange label pressing as well as a very nice sounding Japanese 3 LP box set from 1976 containing the entire session manufactured by Polydor. To me listening to an original (first pressing) encapsulates the magic of the time when the record was made. It feels a bit like time traveling, the better preserved the artifact, the sharper the image it recreates.

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