Sunday, February 12, 2012

Love And Kisses Ought Not To Be Bland, But Ella Fitzgerald Does It!

The Good: Voice (obviously!)
The Bad: Very generic swing jazz sound, SHORT, Poor mix
The Basics: A great artist - Ella Fitzgerald - with a poor compilation - Love And Kisses makes for a c.d. that may easily be avoided.

For those who might not follow my reviews, Ella Fitzgerald is my February Artist Of The Month and I have been enjoying much of her work as I have been experiencing it. However, the problem with reviewing the works of such a prolific performer is that when companies like Laserlight compile her songs, they often end up being a poor value. By that, I mean that among the first four albums by Ella Fitzgerald that I have listened to, which include That Old Black Magic and Starlit Hour have all been short and several of the same songs are cycled between them. As a result, it is worth noting up front that a critique of an album like Love And Kisses is largely about the lack of content and the way it comes together as an album (or fails to) more than any commentary on the artist or her work.

Indeed, it is worth noting that Ella Fitzgerald is an amazing vocalist who has clear vocal abilities and is inarguably one of the greatest vocal jazz performers of all time. She has an amazing range and a phenomenal ability to jump between different octaves and registers. Unfortunately, on the compilation Love And Kisses, Fitzgerald's range and true talents are often neglected or underused. In other words, while Ella Fitzgerald might be musically gifted, Love And Kisses is hardly the ideal collection.

With only ten songs, clocking out at a pretty sad 31:45, Love And Kisses is a pretty poor mix of the music that features vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. It is no surprise to those who listen to a lot of her music to learn, of course, that Fitzgerald only sings on the album. Ella Fitzgerald does not play any instruments on the album and she did not write any of the songs. Neither was she involved in any of the production of the album. As a result, Fitzgerald is much more of a performer than an artist and Love And Kisses is a pretty poor showing of even Fitzgerald as a performer.

So, for example, the album opens with "If You Should Ever Leave" and Love And Kisses, two songs that have extensive instrumental parts driving them. This means in the first five and a half minutes, the listener has quite a bit more of the accompanists' piano and trumpets than of Ella Fitzgerald's voice. It would behoove the good people at Laserlight who put this disc together to at least promote the vocals of Ella Fitzgerald on the albums that are supposed to be hers!

As it is, all of the songs on Love And Kisses share the same jazz swing sound that becomes awful bland when replayed over and over again. There is little track-to-track diversity and the stifling quantity of instrumentals throughout the album lowers the overall power of Ella Fitzgerald's vocals. The instrumentals overbear the vocals.

As for the famed vocals of Ella Fitzgerald, Love And Kisses is a poor outing for her. "How High The Moon," the third song on the album, is the only vocally impressive song and the lyrics to that are fairly inane. That track also has the only strong example of jazz scatting that Fitzgerald performs on the album. On that song, Ella Fitzgerald performs in the low register to scat, sends her voice into a soprano melody for the middle and articulates fast and high for the rest of it. But largely, Fitzgerald is given pieces that keep her either safe in the soprano range ("Sugar Blues") or that she is so comfortable with she ends up sounding bored ("Starlit Hour"). This is not the ideal album for those who want to be impressed by Ella Fitzgerald. Instead, it underwhelms the listener on the vocal front.

And as far as that goes, the only song that is even truly lyrically interesting that I discovered for the first time on this album was "Everyone's Wrong But Me." This song, which is a sort of "to hell with everybody else and what they think song," has beautifully confident and defiant lyrics like "I keep repeating, we'll never part / They tell me, wait and see / Still I love you / Everyone's wrong but me / Till the end of time / This much I know is true / Till the end of time / I'll go on loving you, only you / Tell them you love me, right from the start / And when they disagree / Just you tell them / Everyone was wrong but me" ("Everyone's Wrong But Me"). It is wonderful to hear such strength in a performer and Fitzgerald (mostly) sells it. The parenthetical comes into play because this particular recording has Fitzgerald somewhat muted and the master does not seem to balance her well with the instrumentals.

Lyrically, Love And Kisses is plagued by a sense of repetition. Most of the songs are rather short and as a result have to reuse the lines a few times to make the full, normal song length. This is not so bad, save that some of the lines have terribly singsong rhymes that add up to very little in the way of poetics; "It's a blue world / It takes somebody to help somebody / Oh it's a blue world / It's a new world / It needs somebody to love somebody / Oh it's a blue world" ("It's A Blue World"). While rhyming the same words with themselves can work sometimes, on this song, it seems more lazy and even Ella Fitzgerald sounds like she is pretty bored with it by halfway through.

Lyrically, the song that disappointed me the most had to be "How High The Moon." The vocals are so good and the sound of the song is so fresh and jazzy that I wanted it to mean something. Instead, it is a song with inane lyrics that muse poorly on the distance and scope of the moon. The result is a great sounding song with the lines "'How high the moon' / Is the name of this song / How high the moon / Though the words maybe wrong / We're singin' it because you ask for it / So we're swingin' it just for you / How high the moon / Does it touch the stars / How high the moon / Does it reach out to Mars. . ." ("How High The Moon")? One suspects that Fitzgerald did not have much in the way of veto power over what she performed from songs like this.

Ella Fitzgerald is an amazing vocalist, but Love And Kisses does not show that off sufficiently. As a result, this is a poor investment for those who love - or even just want to get to know - the works of Ella Fitzgerald.

The best track is "Everyone's Wrong But Me," the low point is "Just A Simple Melody."

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
That Old Black Magic
Starlit Hour
Day Dream: Best Of The Duke Ellington Songbook
Oh, Lady, Be Good! The Best Of The Gershwin Songbook
Pure Ella


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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