NOTE: This review relates to two Avid albums, AMSC 11i8 and AMSC 1118. Under Amazon's crazy product group policy, I cannot post separate reviews because the earlier one has been cross-posted.
AVID AMSC 1118: These four albums date from the early sixties, and were issued originally on Verve. Both "Ella in Berlin" and "Ella in Hollywood" were recorded with a live audience, in February 1960 and May 1961 respectively. "Let No Man Write My Epitaph" was recorded in April 1960, and "Ella Swings Gently with Nelson" was recorded in April and November 1961. Three tracks have been omitted from the last-named album, namely "It's a Pity to Say Goodnight", "My One and Only Love" and "Body and Soul". (NOTE: They can be found, together with "Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson") on Avid's subsequent compilation AMSC1122).
There are two Ellas on offer here; the Ella of the concert hall, who peppered her appearances with breakneck delivery and extreme scat singing, and the refined Ella of the recording studio, whose sublime art reached its apogee with the Songbook series.
"Ella in Berlin" is remembered mainly for her alleged memory loss on Mack the Knife, and includes her 8-minute bop-influenced scat on How High the Moon, which also went down well at the time, but may pall on repeated listening. Ella's pipes sound just a trifle hoarse, and the balance between her and the Paul Smith Quartet (particularly the bass) is not perfect, but the atmosphere overcomes those minor deficiencies. The highlights for me are Misty and the three Gershwin numbers. Lou Levy and Herb Ellis replaced pianist Paul Smith and guitarist Jim Hall respectively for the Hollywood concert, and the smaller venue of the 200 capacity Crescendo is reflected in the acoustic. It's another mixed bag of ballads and belters, including a 9-minute scat on "Take the `A' Train" and 5 minutes plus on "Air Mail Special", my preference again being for the ballads.
"Let No Man Write My Epitaph" was the title of a 1960 Columbia film in which Ella played a singing bar pianist, but of the thirteen songs on the album only three were featured in the film, including "Reach for Tomorrow", although a further three were shot, namely "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You", "Misty" and "Who's Sorry Now?". Those six songs, plus a further seven, were recorded again with piano accompaniment by Paul Smith, and resulted in an obscure album which now is much sought after. Ella recorded a pair of "Swings" albums with Nelson Riddle, one Brightly, the other Gently, and the latter fully lives up to its title. Benny Green's sleeve note is a model of clarity, which should deepen the listener's appreciation of Ella's interpretations.
AMSC 1122: "Like Someone in Love" and "Hello Love" were both recorded in 1957, accompanied by the orchestra of Frank deVol. Most of the songs are standards, which Ella sings in a relaxed and carefree fashion. The 1961 album "Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson" and the three missing tracks from the "Gently" album featured on AMSC 1118 feature her with a big band accompaniment, and her vocals are correspondingly more extrovert. Five tracks from "Ella Fitzgerald at the (Chicago) Opera House" are also included; this was a live 1957 recording from the eighteenth JATP tour accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Quartet. Overall, it's a delightful compilation, and of the two this would be my preference, and I would rate it as five stars, but cannot do so.