The North Sea Jazz Festival has been around since 1975, and has programmed some legendary jazz figures for its stages. Bob City Records has been releasing a whole slew of live recordings, the latest of which is this set by singer Ella Fitzgerald. By 1979, the 62-year-old's satiny three-octave voice had, inevitably, frayed at the edges.
On this set, featuring her trio of pianist Paul Smith, bassist Keter Betts and drummer Mickey Rokas, you can hear her straining audibly on the opening track, There Will Never Be Another You. The first couple of phrases sound a bit stiff, the words too clipped to be sinuously melodic. On higher notes, she cheats a little with short notes rather than holding them, and when she tries holding higher notes, her voice verges dangerously on the shrill - unthinkable for a young Ella.
But as she warms up in the subsequent songs, her voice loosens and she starts to sound more like Ella in her prime.
Some standouts are a snappy, scatty take on After You've Gone, in which the hyperactive Smith quotes manically from Salt Peanuts, and the warmly inviting Dindi. On the scat tune Flying Home, Fitzgerald sounds almost as she did at her peak, and You've Changed is as eloquent as any ballad she delivered in her songbook series.
It is evident that Fitzgerald loves performing; she sounds completely at home, at times joking with the receptive audience about the stage lights: "It's so warm up here... Nobody told me it was television."
A must-have for any Fitzgerald fan. And the true-blue devotee should hunt down the set which contains a DVD with remastered images from the concert.
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