The Good: Ella Fitzgerald's amazing voice, Good swing jazz sound overall
The Bad: Compiled from other (some better) recordings, SHORT
The Basics: While Ella Fitzgerald compilations are fairly common, there are few truly worthwhile ones. Flying Home is one worth picking up, though.
There is something amusing to me as someone who began February as a complete novice to the works of Ella Fitzgerald to now be able to recognize some of the recordings from which some of the compilations pull their recordings of her works. The thing is, what is most available these days are compilation recordings of Ella Fitzgerald's works and while there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings to pull from, it seems those who compile the works of Ella Fitzgerald for compact discs seem to pull from about the same fifty songs and too few of the compilations actually make decent use of the amount of space a compact disc actually has.
That said, Flying Home is a pretty weak "recommend" on my part; the songs on it are good, but the capacity for more is there. Moreover, the more I listen to the album, the more I hear how many tracks were simply lifted from Ella And Louis, an album that paired Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to make something of a superalbum. So, for example, "Moonlight In Vermont" on this compilation is simply taken from that album and the nice thing is that it features Armstrong on his trumpet and his vocals come in to provide Ella Fitzgerald with someone to sing to and that works especially well for that song, which is meant to be a duet from the lyrics.
For those looking for a minimal compilation that has a generally decent mix of songs released on other albums, Flying Home fits the bill pretty well. It has twelve songs which take up only 43:30 on the disc, but they are presented with clear remastered sound that comes out beautifully. Of course, Ella Fitzgerald merely performs vocally on Flying Home. She was a jazz vocal performer who had an amazing voice, but did little on the creative end of her own music. As a result, Fitzgerald did not write, compose or produce any of the songs on this album. She also does not play any instruments on Flying Home, she simply provides her amazing voice.
And Ella Fitzgerald has an amazing voice and Flying Home has a mix of songs that help to illustrate that fairly well. This album has some traditional jazz scatting of Fitzgerald’s on tracks like "Air Mail Special" and Flying Home which both illustrate an impressive vocal range and mastery of the scales. Fitzgerald's jazz scatting is actually a wonderful example of the performer's originality and her creative ability. While I might be dismayed that she did not have much creative control over most of her works, it is hard to deny that she does create when she explores with her voice through magical ascensions and descending scales in her quick "boop" and "bops" of jazz scatting.
When not creating aural utterances that are enchanting in their speed and tonal quality, Ella Fitzgerald is largely able to articulate beautifully, as she does through the fast parts of "How High The Moon." She sings deep and growling on "Basin Street Blues" and ascends the full three octaves of her range on the more melodic and ethereal "Angel Eyes." Those who compiled this album seemed to have a wonderful concept of how to mix Fitzgerald's lower moments and her higher ones.
Unfortunately, many of the songs are somewhat lyrically limited, which makes them harder to take seriously over multiple listens. It does not matter how well Ella Fitzgerald sings "A Foggy Day," for example, when its lines include "A foggy day, in London town / Had me low, had me down / I viewed the morning, with much alarm / British museum, had lost its charm / How long I wondered, / Could this thing last / But the age of miracles, hadn't past / For suddenly, I saw you there / And through foggy london town, / The sun was shining everywhere." I've tended to go lightly on some of the lyrics Fitzgerald sings because predictable rhyme schemes were not always so; someone had to use them first. Still, the singsong rhythm to this song is often troubling, especially when one listens to it over and over again.
Moreover, one has to assume that Fitzgerald is performing with a theatrical sense of irony on "Lullaby Of Birdland." Far from a lullaby, she presents it as an upbeat swing jazz song that has a toe-tapping rhythm. Unfortunately, this is distracting as she sings "And there's a weepy old willow / He really knows how to cry, / That's how I'd cry in my pillow / If you should tell me farewell and goodbye / Lullaby of birdland whisper low / Kiss me sweet, and we'll go / Flying high in birdland, high in the sky up above / All because were in love" ("Lullaby Of Birdland"). Instead of being sweet, soulful and sad as the lyrics connote, the song is strangely upbeat in a disconcerting and incongruent way.
One of the better songs, "Moonlight In Vermont" is a poetic duet presented between her and Louis Armstrong. The song resonates well when she sings "Telegraph cables, they sing down the highway / And travel each bend in the road" and he responds "People who meet, in this romantic setting / Are so hypnotized by the lovely. . ." ("Moonlight In Vermont"). In that case, even the slightly simplistic lyrics are able to be written off due to the amazing vocals. Fitzgerald dominates the upper registers and Armstrong enters with his smooth voice entering the lower tenor range to harmonize with her. It is quite extraordinary.
But largely, this is a fair, not indispensible, compilation for those who are enthusiastic about the works of Ella Fitzgerald. There is much to enjoy and if you find it when you need an Ella Fitzgerald fix, this is a good way to go. But for a permanent library of Ella Fitzgerald's works, this would be a tough sell, whatwith so many other great compilations out there.
The best track is "Air Mail Special" with its amazing jazz scatting, the low point is the murky and repetitive "April In Paris."
For other works by Ella Fitzgerald, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Ella And Louis
Ella At Duke's Place
Ella Fitzgerald With The Tommy Flanagan Trio
Ella And Louis Again
That Old Black Magic
Love And Kisses
Day Dream: Best Of The Duke Ellington Songbook
Oh, Lady, Be Good! The Best Of The Gershwin Songbook
For other music reviews, please be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my music reviews!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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