The Good: Moments of creative vocals
The Bad: Noisy vocals, Unoriginal instrumental performances, Uninspired lyrics, "Live" conceits, SHORT!
The Basics: A surprisingly disappointing Ella Fitzgerald performance is immortalized with Ella Fitzgerald With The Tommy Flanagan Trio, a disc that may be safely avoided.
As the old saying goes, "I don't always know what is good, but I know what I like." I found myself contemplating that as I was compelled to review Ella Fitzgerald With The Tommy Flanagan Trio because, quite frankly, I did not like it. The advantage of picking a musical artist and immersing myself in that artist's works each month is that I often come away with a strong ability to speak about which recordings are the best and which ought to be avoided from the simple perspective of someone who has listened to a lot of music and a lot of that particular artist's works.
I bent my rule when I named Ella Fitzgerald my January Artist Of The Month; Fitzgerald is a performer, not writing any of the material she presents. Still, there are great albums and great compilations she has been a part of. Her 1969 recording Ella Fitzgerald With The Tommy Flanagan Trio is not one of them. Having listened to and reviewed nine other Ella Fitzgerald albums before this one, I can easily and honestly say that this is the poorest example of the vocal talents of Ella Fitzgerald I have yet heard.
With fourteen songs occupying 48:20, Ella Fitzgerald With The Tommy Flanagan Trio is a poor example of the vocalizations of Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald sings all fourteen songs, but she wrote and produced none of them. Moreover, she plays no instruments on this album and as a result, all she is compelled to do here is sing the words of other artists.
Sadly, this is not the best example of Fitzgerald's abilities in that regard. First, she opens the album with a strangely noisy sense to her performance on "I Won't Dance." Fitzgerald attempts to emote some of the lyrics with a forceful persona, but instead, they come out sounding amelodic and unmusical. Similarly, she screeches (please note I have never used that word in association with Ella Fitzgerald's voice before now) on "A Man & A Woman" before degenerating into the most boring jazz scatting of her career.
Her presentation of "I Love You Madly" is sloppy and sounds oddly without form or ability. Fitzgerald is known for being able to command three octaves from soprano down. On "I Love You Madly," she sticks in the lower and mid-range octaves and in addition to providing boring, pedestrian vocalizations that could be done at least as well by the average high school jazz band, she sounds bored with it and the presentation is lacking in her trademark emotion and depth. Similarly, she is all over the place - that's a phrase we use for singers who are leaping around the scales without making it sound musical - on "All Right, O.K., You Win." This is a most unfortunate turn for Ella Fitzgerald.
Ella Fitzgerald With The Tommy Flanagan Trio has Fitzgerald pigeonholed into the same, light jazz vocals that the Trio appears able to handle and none of it uses Fitzgerald's talents to the fullest. So, while she presents her version of "People" (the same one Streisand is known for) she presents it without any flare that makes it uniquely hers. So, even when she is singing a musical storysong like "Just One Of Those Things," she does not make lines like "As Abelard said to Eloise, / 'Don't forget to drop a line to me, please' / As Juliet cried, in her Romeo's ear, / 'Romeo, why not face the fact, my dear' / It was just one of those things / Just one of those crazy flings" resonate. This album has Fitzgerald presenting without flair and while she speaks between the tracks, thanking the Trio and such, it is hardly the most personal or intimate or even interesting experience.
One might want to put some blame on the songs chosen for Fitzgerald to perform on this album and that might be a fair thing to do. None of the other albums I've listened to, for example, have "My Heart Belongs To Daddy." This inane song has some pretty predictable and passe rhymes, even for the day. It is hard to ask Ella Fitzgerald to sell "I used to fall / In love with all / Those boys who call /On young cuties / But now I find / I'm all inclined / To keep my mind / On my duties / Since I've begun to share / In such a sweet love affair" ("My Heart Belongs To Daddy"). When the material is like that, it is hard to blame Fitzgerald for sounding lackluster and unexcited about performing.
The only song she seems to be truly excited about singing - and I was disappointed, because I have loved some of her past versions of "Mr. Paganini" - is the final track, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love Baby." On that track, she loosens up, sounds like she is having fun as she lets her voice soar over the lines "My luck is changing it's gotten from simply rotten / To something worst / Who knows someday I will win too / I'll begin to reach my pride / Now that I see what our end is / All can spend is just my time / I can't give you anything but love, baby. / That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby. / Dream a while. Scheme a while. / We're sure to find, / Happiness . . ." ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love Baby"). This track appears, far too late, to remind the listener that Ella Fitzgerald has performance ability and loads of talent and that they have spent the prior forty some minutes listening to something that is not living up to her potential.
On this album, Fitzgerald is accompanied (mostly) by the simplistic piano, bass and drums sound that appears to be the Tommy Flanagan Trio. The instrumentals are mundane and while they never overshadow Fitzgerald, they do little to give her anything to play off of. The result is an album that forces Fitzgerald to carry the album and she does not seem to be in the mood to do it. Even those who love great jazz performances will want to give this one a pass, after all, it is not.
The best track is "I Can't Give You Anything But Love Baby" and while none of the other tracks are stellar, "I Won't Dance" was a terrible track to begin this poor c.d. with.
For other works by Ella Fitzgerald, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Ella And Louis
Ella At Duke's Place
That Old Black Magic
Day Dream: Best Of The Duke Ellington Songbook
Oh, Lady, Be Good! The Best Of The Gershwin Songbook
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Reviews Index Page for an organized listing of these types of reviews!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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