Ella Fitzgerald, 1961
I could spend weeks just reviewing the Ella Fitzgerald albums I have, but why not start with my all-time favorite? What a gorgeous and well-conceived album, not a clunker in the whole bunch of songs.
Just jazz standards here, tending towards the ballads and downtempo numbers, which suits me well most of the time. It's just a small jazz quartet as the backing band, too, including Herb Ellis on guitar. Every song is just a gem, her voice soars and floats and dips effortlessly.
"Night in Tunisia" grooves along, forgoing the Afrocuban feel for some alternating 6/8 and 4/4 meters. "You're My Thrill" is perhaps the most purely emotive track - an interpretation that gets me every time. She takes "Born to Be Blue" from a rich deep blues to angelsong and back again. On "Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most," she delivers a performance so wantonly gorgeous that it is the closest thing to a proof of the existence of god. And "This Could Be the Start of Something Big," Steve Allen's novelty theme song, just swings like fuck.
Those are just a few of the tracks that are standing out for me at the moment - this is an album to live your life to. Yes it's hard for me to pile up enough superlatives to do this album justice. I've been listening to this one constantly ever since I bought it about 15 years ago, and it's always been there for me when I needed it. I remember listen to "'Round Midnight" in the car as I drove through one of her old neighborhoods in Yonkers (where there was an excellent Salvadoran restaurant at the time), late in a cool autumn evening, and feeling that little frisson that you get when you realize that your life is connected to everyone else's and there's a common rhythm to the world.
Not all music can do that.