Album Review: ELLA FITZGERALD: THE LOST BERLIN TAPES (Verve)

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by Tony Frankel on October 26, 2020

in CD-DVD

SHE’S BACK!

Ella Fitzgerald’s feathery swinging touch is instantly recognizable: her acumen, heart, and technical finesse — that subtlety in deftness and taste — combined with her jazzy roots in bebop and novelty, and her skill in using her voice as if it were an instrument, made her the foremost jazz singer in the history of the genre. She also made her mark as one of the greatest scat singers in jazz.

Now, she’s back with an all-new album. Yep. All-new in 2020. It was common practice for singers to be recorded while on the road, and Ella has been captured performing at clubs from Hollywood to Paris. Her previously released live Berlin album brought us the iconic “Mack the Knife” cover, one of her most popular cuts. So what do we have here? More Berlin! The Lost Berlin Tapes, which was found in the tape collection of Norman Granz, the greatest jazz impresario in our nation’s history. In 1956, Ella signed with Verve Records, Granz’s record label, which is releasing this wonderful collection of 17 triumphant tracks. Since these are songs we’ve heard recorded at other concerts, it may be that Granz thought it unnecessary to release this. Who knows? But when you hear this collection of Ella standards, you’ll be astounded that it’s clear as a bell — terrifically transcribed from 3 track tape — and picks up the generous enthusiasm from a town that just 17 years earlier was besieged by bombs from a furious U.S.

In 1956 Ella Fitzgerald signed with Verve Records, Granz’s record label. Fitzgerald recorded with Verve until the mid-1960s. Included in this era were a series of eight Song Book albums, with interpretations of the greater part of the Great American Songbook, some of which occur in this concert. Recorded at Berlin’s Sportpalast on March 25th, 1962, this is a stunning find indeed. All facets of her great vocal art are here, but so too are her personality traits: Playful, girlish, naïve, soulful. She is quite rightly the “First Lady of Song.” Accompanying her are the great Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Stan Levey on drums.

Ella Fitzgerald: Live in Berlin
Verve
17 tracks | 63:50 | released October 4, 2020
available at Amazon, iTunes

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