Ella and Oscar arrives with the latest wave of the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series issued by Concord Music Group. Recorded May 19, 1975, the nine-song album features the vocals of Ella Fitzgerald and piano playing of Oscar Peterson. Ray Brown, former Peterson bandmate and Fitzgerald’s ex-husband, joined the duo on bass for the final four tunes. This edition is expanded by four previously unreleased bonus tracks.
In the tradition of previous Original Jazz Classics Remasters, the 24-bit remastering by Joe Tarantino makes these recordings sound fresh. The booklet includes both Benny Green’s original liner notes and a new essay by Tad Hershorn, author of the forthcoming Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice. Granz was a seminal jazz producer, record label founder, and tireless advocate for the rights of black artists. Ella and Oscar was one of many classic albums he produced.
To call this collection of Great American Songbook standards intimate would be an understatement. Even during the second half where Brown’s bass provides additional rhythmic variety, the focus is squarely on voice and piano. Most of the album’s tracks are under five minutes in length. Only on the closing number, “April In Paris,” do they really stretch out significantly. Peterson delivers a relaxed but swinging solo. Fitzgerald follows suit with remarkably expressive scatting. Earlier on “When Your Lover Has Gone,” she and Peterson trades four bars solos in captivating exchange of melodic ideas.
Subtle differences in phrasing keep the bonus tracks interesting. Each of the four are alternate takes of songs appearing on the album. There are no drastically different approaches, with each alternate matching the official version in length almost to the second. Take two of “April In Paris” finds Fitzgerald starting her solo a bit later, but ultimately making a few even more adventurous choices than on the album version. With legendary artists of this caliber, the alternates are well worth listening to even without an abundance of obvious variation.
Ella and Oscar is a low-key album of small, quiet pleasures. Brown’s bass, while supportive, assumes a strictly supportive role during the second half. Essentially the record is a collection of beautifully delivered duets between two of the most distinctive voices in jazz history.