February 2021 Jazz Record Reviews

Diana Krall: This Dream of You
Krall, vocals, piano; 32 others
Verve B0032519-02 (CD, also available as download, LP). 2020. Diana Krall, prod.; Al Schmitt, Brian Montgomery, Chris Potter, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Albums with such diverse provenance (three studios, three engineers, six ensembles) often lack aesthetic and sonic continuity. Not here. Diana Krall and engineer Al Schmitt mixed and sequenced these recordings from 2016 and 2017 into a memoir with a single emotional atmosphere. Krall's intimate voice is always the focus, telling secrets into your ear. There are differences in tone from band to band. Anthony Wilson's guitar lines have harder edges than Russell Malone's more romantic flow. But everything here is romantic. No one can bewitch you with a love song like Krall.

Some jazz purists distrust Krall because of all her Grammy awards (five) and multiplatinum albums (seven). Don't listen to them. She sings definitive interpretations of the American Songbook and makes them sound as natural and effortless as breathing. Her understatement is deceptive. Her mastery of nuance makes you believe you never truly felt a song until she sang it. With that extraordinary voice, breathy yet specific and lucid, she sounds like she is singing to herself, searching for truths in her own heart. The listener is allowed to eavesdrop.

It is a quiet rush when a 21-piece string section wraps around her on "Autumn in New York." "More Than You Know" and "Don't Smoke in Bed," supported only by Alan Broadbent's spare piano, are profoundly rapt. The surprise is Krall's newest collaborators: Stuart Duncan's fiddle and Marc Ribot's guitar bring fresh twangs and rasps into Krall's world. This band transforms "How Deep Is the Ocean" into a dark, strange ceremony and kills Bob Dylan's title track.—Thomas Conrad


Ella Fitzgerald: Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes
Fitzgerald, voice; Paul Smith, piano; Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass; Stan Levey, drums
Verve (CD, 2 LPs). 2020. Gregg Field, Ken Druker, prods.; Gregg Field, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

It has been a dozen years since a stash of long-lost Ella Fitzgerald tapes was dug out from some dusty archive. The great discovery back then was Twelve Nights in Hollywood, a 4-CD box of highlights from live sets from a small L.A. club in 1961. Now comes The Lost Berlin Tapes, a live concert from March 25, 1962, at the massive Sportpalast in Berlin. While it lacks the intimacy of the earlier treasure, it's just as satisfying. It's invaluable, even revelatory.

Ella was known as the Queen of Song, in part for her series of Great American Songbook albums (for Kern, Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Ellington, etc.), sung with beauty, grace, and swing. In contrast with Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday, she was not renowned for her touch with the blues; she was too happy for that. She was often criticized for paying scant attention to a song's lyrics. And yet, The Lost Berlin Tapes sports a few songs—"Good Morning Heartache," "Summertime," "Cry Me a River," "Someone to Watch Over Me"—that she plumbs with deep soul and belts out with shivering intensity. Others she sings with such angelic beauty—most of all "Angel Eyes"—that criticism melts away. Her rhythm section is, as usual, serviceable, but Paul Smith steps out, comps with corkscrew lines that other pianists would boast as solos, and, far from getting in Ella's way, eggs her on to flightier excursions than usual.

The sound quality is excellent, a masterful digital processing of the original analog tapes. The rhythm section is sometimes distant but never muffled, and Ella's voice—indeed her presence—is vivid. This may be the best-sounding live Ella on record.—Fred Kaplan


Charles Mingus: @ Bremen 1964 & 1975
Mingus, bass; nine others
Sunnyside SSC 1570 (4 CDs). 1964-1975/2020. Dr. Ingolf Wachler, Peter Schulze, Bret Sjerven, Franáois Zalacain, prods.; Rolf Mittag, Dietram Köster, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ***½

Reserve a full day for this one. You will be drowning in four hours of rough, sprawling, riotous, indulgent, sublime Mingus music.

On April 16, 1964, and July 9, 1975, Mingus played concerts in Bremen, Germany, recorded by Radio Bremen for broadcast. The 1964 concert featured one of the greatest Mingus ensembles, with Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Coles, and Jaki Byard. It took place in Radio Bremen's Studio F before a stunned audience of 220. The 1975 concert, with George Adams, Jack Walrath, and Don Pullen, took place in the Post-Aula auditorium before 440 people. Dannie Richmond was the drummer in both bands.

The two ensembles have been well documented, including approved recordings and bootlegs from the 1964 tour. But these previously unissued concerts are mind-blowers, especially 1964. If this 56-year-old music could be transposed to 2020, it would be right on the edge of the jazz avantgarde. Dolphy, two months before he died at 36, on three reed instruments, is beside himself, shrieking, singing, soaring toward heaven. Byard plays all piano history. Half-hour pieces careen wildly, swerving off course, under the sweeping arc of epic Mingus compositions like "Fables of Faubus" (played by both bands for a total of 49 minutes).

The 1975 concert has better sound and a band only slightly less maniacal than their 1964 predecessors. Walrath is a criminally underrated trumpet player. Adams's tenor saxophone unleashes his tumultuous subconscious. Pullen's piano rains down in storms of clanging thunder. Mingus's bass instigates it all. Mingus lives.—Thomas Conrad

NeilS's picture

"...The sound quality is excellent, a masterful digital processing of the original analog tapes. The rhythm section is sometimes distant but never muffled, and Ella's voice—indeed her presence—is vivid. This may be the best-sounding live Ella on record."

I agree with Mr. Kaplan's excellent review of the performance, but I had a different experience listening to the sound. I haven't heard the vinyl version, but in terms of "best-sounding live Ella on record", according to JRiver audio analysis, the Verve CD/download version of "The Lost Tapes" appears to have been mastered with far less dynamic range (min 7 dB, max 9 dB) than, say the 1986 Verve CD release of her famous live album, Ella in Berlin (min 13 dB, max 14 dB). It sounds it.

Compared to the 1986 Verve CD of "Ella in Berlin", IMHO the sound on "The Lost Tapes" is bright and harsh, and the "never muffled" and "vivid" sound is an unwelcome consequence of the reduced dynamic range. I thought the CD/download sounds as if Ella and her accompanying musicians were recorded standing on a horizontal line on the stage

Joe Whip's picture

I found this set too bright for my taste, especially the applause. The performance is top notch.

jimcomas's picture

Thank you NeilS! I totally agree!!The download is DR 7!!! We are not told which version Mr.Kaplan is listening to,CD,vinyl or download!

Allen Fant's picture

As above- the Mingus set is Outstanding!

PeterG's picture

Thanks Neil and Joe--I'm CD rips only, so I will get Live in Berlin instead

jimtavegia's picture

Glad folks can still make some music and help us keep our wits about us. Great Album.

Ortofan's picture

... on the old Prairie Home Companion radio program.

Here's a link to one such show from their archives:

The show "rundown" link includes a list of the various program segments with timestamps, so you can skip ahead/around to the songs that might interest you.

A search for "Diana Krall" and "Prairie Home Companion" will generate links to shows from other dates.

jimtavegia's picture

Greatly appreciated. I loved the PHC shows.

jimtavegia's picture

how great PHC shows were.

Ortofan's picture

... has been saved and continues to be made available.

After GK left the show, for a time access to the archive disappeared and it seemed as though all of those wonderful performances from all of those great artists might be lost forever.