SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington – Ella and Duke at the Cote D’Azur – Mosaic Records (3 LP set)

The final recording together from Duke and Ella…

Published on January 2, 2011

Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington – Ella and Duke at the Cote D’Azur – Mosaic Records (3 LP set)

Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington – Ella and Duke at the Cote D’Azur - Mosaic Records MRLP 3002 (3 LP set) 180-gram vinyl, July 26-29, 1966 – Antibes/ Juan-les Pins, France ****½:

Performers:
Duke Ellington Orchestra:
Cat Anderson, Mercer Ellington, Herbie Jones, Cootie Williams- trumpets
Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors – trombones
Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope (& cl), Jimmy Hamilton (& cl), Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney – saxophones
Duke Ellington- piano
John Lamb – bass
Sam Woodyard- drums
Jimmy Jones Trio- Jimmy Jones, piano; Jim Hughart, bass; Grady Tate, drums
Ella Fitzgerald – vocals
Special guests: Ben Webster – tenor sax;  Ray Nance – cor, vln, vcl; – Jo Jones – drums

LP Album Index:
Verve V6-4072-2 -  Ella and Duke at the Cote D’Azur
Verve V6-8701 -     Soul Call

Original session produced by Norman Granz
Produced for Release: Scott Wenzel and Michael Cuscuna
Tape Transfers: Malcolm Addey
Mastering: Kevin Gray at Scoutech Mastering

Audiophile treatment has long been overdue for the final meeting between the premier jazz composer and its finest vocalist – Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. They met over the last weekend of July1966 at the idyllic setting of Antibes/Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera, locally known as the Cote D’Azur. Originally released on LP as Soul Call (1966), and the subsequent two-LP set, Ella and Duke at the Cote D’Azur (1967), Mosaic Records has brought the entire weekend together on 3 LPs on 180 gram vinyl. Tape transfers and mastering has been done by the “A Team” of Malcolm Addey, and Kevin Gray, respectively. The weekend’s festivities were recorded live to two-track stereo so microphone placement and equalization were an issue, especially when the full orchestra was on stage.

The format for these concerts was multi-fold – Ella and Duke with orchestra; the orchestra on their own; Ella with the Jimmy Jones Trio; as well as a smaller grouping of Duke’s band. With these challenges Ella had to be on top of her game, and here, she clearly is. This is even more remarkable as Fitzgerald had to miss the opening night due to the death of her half-sister Francis. She left France and flew to New York, but immediately returned after the funeral, to honor her commitment.

Song selection is a mix of the familiar (“Mack the Knife”, “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, “Misty”, “Lullaby of Birdland”) along with the lesser known and newer material (“West Indian Pancake”, “Rose of the Rio Grande”, “Jazz Samba” and “Goin’ Out of My Head”). A highlight of the weekend was the performance of the extended composition, “La Plus Belle Africaine”, which was introduced earlier in 1966.

Highlights of this LP set are numerous and include:

Ella wails right off the bat with the opening of “Mack the Knife” complete with Satchmo-style scatting. She is clearly inspired by the band’s horn section and lets us know.

I can never get enough of Johnny Hodges and Hodges’ main solo on these recordings graces “The Old Circus Train Turn-Around Blues”, which is noted to be based upon the chord changes of “Night Train”, via “The Blues Old Man”, and “Happy Go-Lucky Local.”

Buster Cooper must have needed some chapstick after burning his way on trombone through “Trombonio-Bustoso-Issimo”.

Ella turns tender on “How Long Has This Been Going On” backed by the Jimmy Jones Trio. This track has the intimate feel of a studio recording.

Record Three, Side A, brought me the most thrills as it brought the recording premiere of “La Plus Belle Africaine.” This composition plays to Ellington’s strength in blending sophistication with the exotic. Duke sets the mood with a left hand piano line while John Lamb’s bowed bass and Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet add a tone of sinister mystery with an African beat. Harry Carney’s growling baritone brings further intrigue to what almost has a rather free-sounding (for Duke) flavor. “West Indian Pancake follows and here we have Paul Gonsalves locked into a groove, snaking in and out while Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet is blowing sweetly. Gonsalves’ cadenza takes the tune out. Hearing these two compositions live on the French Riviera must have been quite a thrill.
Audiophiles will find the piano trio and smaller group sessions more to their liking as the stereo two-track miking is more effective here than on the full orchestra as some of the instruments get lost in the mix with the complete band. Ella’s vocals, though, are clear and sweet, and you can sense the joy she has in singing for Duke.

For fans of Duke and Ella, this is an easily-recommended purchase. Jazz historians will also appreciate the liner notes from Ellington historian Brian Priestly that document the final meeting between these two legendary figures.

– Jeff Krow




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