JVC XRCD (VICJ-60097)
When I started buying LPs a few years ago I decided to concentrate mainly on acquiring Jazz records, finding that so many used classical LPs were too noisy and beat up and that I wanted rock and pop on CD for the car. For whatever reason, I ended up with quite a few discs from the Pablo label. During the 1970’s this Los Angeles based label made countless recordings with ageing jazz legends. Spin through the jazz bins at a well stocked used record store and you’ll probably find more than a few Pablos with their distinctive black and white artwork. There’s also a distinctive Pablo sound, usually characterized by excellent, albeit dry, studio damped, sonics. Some might argue that these records were on the sterile side, capturing performances by artists well past their prime, legends just going through the motions. In some cases I think that’s probably true, but there are some real gems in the Pablo catalog. My favorite is probably Duke’s Big Four (Pablo 2310703), which features fantastic, highly energetic playing and thrilling sound. Ella and Oscar is a similar story, the XRCD in question cut from the Pablo analog masters.
And wonderful masters they are. The first half of the album is just Fitzgerald and Peterson working through “Mean to Me”, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, “When Your Lover Has Gone”, “More Than You Ever Know”, and “There’s a Lull in My Life”. The pair is joined for the last four tracks by almost ubiquitous Peterson sideman Ray Brown on bass for “Midnight Sun”, “I Hear Music”, “Street of Dreams”, and “April in Paris”. Intimate and minimalist in tone, the three musicians featured show no sign of being in their “twilight years” at all. This is especially true of Ella, whose power and dynamic range are beautifully captured, although she is very close miked. In fact, vocal reproduction on this disc is about as good as I’ve heard from CD in terms of sheer transparency (unfortunately I didn’t have an LP copy for comparison). Although typically dry overall, Ella is “right there” present, the ebb and flow of her voice extremely well conveyed. The duo’s rendition of “More Than You Ever Know” is particularly lovely. Once Brown joins the party things swing a little more heavily, building up to the bombastic finale of “April in Paris”. All in all, a great session and a great recording. If you’re fans of the musicians involved chances are you’ll want to own this recording, whether the original LP or this excellent sounding CD reissue