Ella in Japan: 'S Wonderful
Ella Fitzgerald had recorded live albums in venues ranging from Newport to Berlin to Hollywood when she and a quartet led by Roy Eldridge traveled to Japan in early 1964 for a series of concerts. Norman Granz, the former Verve head and current Fitzgerald manager who accompanied the musicians on their trip, recorded the concerts for release, but the tapes sat unissued in the Verve vaults -- a victim of the surplus of Ella material already recorded but not released -- for nearly 50 years, until the 2011 two-disc reissue Ella in Japan: 'S Wonderful. In the early '60s, Japan was thick with jazz fans, and crowds swarmed the Hibiya Kokaido Public Hall in Tokyo for the January 19 show that is included on the first disc. (The second disc includes a far more exclusive affair, recorded at a hotel a few days later.) Although another live album was recorded and released just a few short months after these shows (Ella at Juan-Les-Pins), the material has few overlaps. Ella is in fine form -- as usual, she turned up the candlepower in front of an audience -- personalizing Peggy Lee's "I Love Being Here with You" early in the program, and even singing in Japanese, to the delight of the crowd, during a stirring "'S Wonderful." The quartet, including Eldrige on trumpet plus pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Bill Yancey, and drummer Gus Johnson, are quite adept at sounding bigger than a four-piece, especially on Ella's saucy "Whatever Lola Wants." (Also, an instrumental mini-set of four tracks concludes the first disc.) Raiding the vaults can be a risky proposition, but here, as with the massive four-disc Twelve Nights in Hollywood compilation, fans of Fitzgerald specifically, or great jazz singing in general, will find a wealth of great material.