Sunday, April 23, 2006

jazz in the mornin' #5: Mingus, Parker, Fitzgerald, Peterson

Not much to say at the moment on the Mingus (that bass-vamp-instead-of-changes "Summertime" with Hampton Hawes must have been pretty startling in 1957) and Parker volumes.

Ella Fitzgerald: is there a more perfect, more I-wrote-the-textbook way of singing than Ella's? It seems to me that she's often cast as the facile, light-hearted virtuoso. Certainly, there's that: "Oh Lady Be Good!" with the JATP in 1949 and "How High The Moon" in 1960 are something of circus acts, but also manages to make scat not sound ridiculous, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" has comic Armstrong and Rose Murphy (who Joanna Newsom fans should check out) imitations. There are the unassailably self-assured performances, such as "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)" or "The Lady Is A Tramp" (and its biting humour) and "Lover Come Back To Me" (both fronting big bands) than can give an impression of workman-like perfection. But there's a whole other side too, and it's not unconnected.

"Someone To Watch Over Me," a 1950 duet with Ellis Larkin is deeply moving, with Ella lingering on each word, dosing each attack and timbre. "Azure" is just Ella and Barney Kessel in 1956, and floats along with divine serenity. "Whisper Not" is less intimate, but is as well-arranged by Marty Paich as it is sung. If anyone is under-valued, surely Benny Golson is. What's amazing in these performances, is that there is absolutely no excess: she knows what these songs are saying and lets them say it.

There are a few duds too: "A-Tisket A-Tasket" is pretty much obligatory for any Ella comp, but I find it to be little more than a youthful novelty tune, and an annoying one at that. Is "By Strauss"'s pontificating to be taken seriously? A number of the songbook GAS interpretations are middling: great voice, of course, but not much magic ("She Didn't Say 'Yes'," "What Will I Tell My Heart" despite Stan Getz's surprisingly compatible contributions, "Midnight Sun").

The Oscar Peterson volume was one of the ones I was initially most anticipating, because I don't have a single one of his albums. The Peterson-Granz relationship may very well, by length and historical importance, be unique in all of jazz.

Of course, there are plenty of finger-busters and a few things I find barely listenable, but I'd like to point out the magnificently tender "I Got It Bad" and the rather poppish/faux classical "You Look Good To Me" (cool arrangement, on which Ray Brown makes a beautiful, bouncy statement after a wistful piano intro) as subdued moments of uncommon grace (emotional for the former, in the way Peterson twirls around the melody in the latter). "It Never Entered My Mind" could have contended for this category, but goes overboard in overindulging overblown flourishes that overwhelm the song. I probably won't be rushing out to get more Peterson, but since he's on half of the Verve catalogue anyway...

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to Ed Thigpen's hi-hat pattern behind Milt Jackson on "A Wonderful Guy": three hits spread over two waltz-time bars, each hit making different use of the sock cymbal.