Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ella Fitzgerald And Joe Pass: "Easy Living" (1986/2011 re-issue) CD Review

Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass released their first album together, Take Love Easy, in 1973. They subsequently released two more records (Fitzgerald And Pass...Again and Speak Love) before the tracks for Easy Living were recorded. So they were very familiar with each other, and that shows in this collection of songs. The music seems to flow with ease from these two amazing performers. Easy Living features no other musicians. These songs are all vocals and guitar. And what more do you need?

This re-issue features two bonus tracks, both previously unreleased.

"My Ship"

Easy Living opens with "My Ship," a tune written by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill for the musical Lady In The Dark. Loose, somewhat sparse playing by Joe Pass on guitar backs Ella's gorgeous voice. The guitar work seems improvised, even - or especially - during the sudden solo a couple of minutes in. The guitar is mellow, but never dull. Ella's voice is bright and lively, then sultry and sexy. She finds, or creates, wonderful modulations throughout. The song begins, "My ship has sails that are made of silk/The decks are trimmed with gold/And of jam and spice there's a paradise in the hold."

"Don't Be That Way"

I love Ella's voice, and I always expect excellent things from her. But "Don't Be That Way" still surprised me - what she does with this song is wonderful. This track is worth it just to hear the way Ella sings the lines, "Don't break my heart/Honey, please don't be that way." But then it leads into some wonderful scat. This is such a great track, one of the CD's best. There are moments when Ella sounds so young; other times she sounds wise with experience.

An alternate take of this song is included in the bonus tracks. Check out the odd and silly "Pop Goes The Weasel" bit in the scat section of that version.

"Days Of Wine And Roses"

Written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, "Days Of Wine And Roses" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1962. Ella and Joe do a wonderful job with it. Ella's voice finds incredible depths and still plays lightly at times. When she sings, "The days of wine and roses/Laugh and run away/Like a child at play," her voice seems to be at play. So beautiful.

"Easy Living"

Easy Living is a film I've long wanted to see. Jean Arthur in a sable coat? Yes, that's enough to get me interested. I wasn't aware of this song, but now I'm even more eager to see the film. Written by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, this song - as sung by Ella - is pretty darn sexy. This version also features a nice guitar solo.

"(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You"

Their version of "(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You" is kind of a sweet, understated interpretation. Though Ella does belt it out now and again, more so as the song goes on. This version really won me over. It features an interesting guitar solo, with a bit of scat thrown in by Ella - probably my favorite part of this track.

"(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You" was written by Bing Crosby, Ned Washington and Victor Young.

"Love For Sale"

Ella and Joe's version of "Love For Sale" begins with Ella doing a muffled bit of humming over Joe's guitar. Ella then sings, "Who will buy/Who would like to sample my supply/Who's prepared to pay the price/For a trip to paradise." Hearing Ella sing this is "a trip to paradise." This track is all Ella, with Joe Pass just playing a good groove beneath her. There are moments full of humor in Ella's delivery, like the second time she sings, "Old love, new love/Every love but true love/Love, love, love, love for sale." There is more muffled humming toward the end, like someone has a hand over her mouth.

"Love For Sale" was written by Cole Porter. An alternate take of this song is included in the bonus tracks.

"Why Don't You Do Right?"

"Why Don't You Do Right?" is a seriously cool song. Written by Joe McCoy and Lester Melrose, this song was famously recorded by Peggy Lee. Ella Fitzgerald sings this with power and authority. She puts you to shame when she sings, "You're sitting down wondering what it's all about/If you ain't got no money they will put you out/Why don't you do right/Like some other men do/Get out of here and get me some money too." It's enough to make me want to straighten out my own financial situation. And Joe Pass is perfect on guitar.

Kelly's Lot does a cool version of this song on their 2009 release Pastrami & Jam.

"I'm Making Believe"

Ella's voice is particularly beautiful on "I'm Making Believe." This song starts with more than a minute of Joe Pass doing a really pretty solo on guitar. Then Ella comes in, "I'm making believe that you're in my arms/Though I know you're so far away/Making believe I'm talking to you/Wish you could hear what I say." This is a beautiful rendition of "I'm Making Believe," which was written by Jimmy Monaco and Mack Gordon.

CD Track List

  1. My Ship
  2. Don't Be That Way
  3. My Man
  4. Don't Worry 'Bout Me
  5. Days Of Wine And Roses
  6. Easy Living
  7. (I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of Chance With You
  8. Love For Sale
  9. Moonlight In Vermont
  10. On Green Dolphin Street
  11. Why Don't You Do Right?
  12. By Myself
  13. I Want A Little Girl
  14. I'm Making Believe
  15. On A Slow Boat To China
  16. Don't Be That Way (Take 3, Alternate)
  17. Love For Sale (Take 1, Alternate)

This special re-issue of Easy Living was released on June 14, 2011 through Concord Music Group as part of their Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series. Five other CDs in that series were also released on that date: Cannonball Adderly with Bill Evans: Know What I Mean?, Chet Baker: In New York, Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!!, Bill Evans Trio: Explorations, and Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Alone In San Francisco.

Joe Pass died in 1994. Ella Fitzgerald died in 1996.

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