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Jazz Spotlight

March 20, 1994|LEONARD FEATHER


"Pure Ella"


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Is that all there is to a song?

This naively superficial reaction could be applied, theoretically, to "Pure Ella," since the ingredients are basic: a vocalist, a pianist and 20 songs (nine of them by the Gershwins) drawn from the classic pop repertoire.

Since the singer is Ella Fitzgerald and the pianist Ellis Larkins, who for decades has been acknowledged as one of the world's nonpareil accompanists, the usual rules do not apply. Their collaboration began in 1950 and continued in 1954; these were islands in a recording career at Decca marked by too many second-rate songs and big-band settings.

"Songs in a Mellow Mood" was the title given to the 12 songs on the second date, and indeed these two virtually define the adjective. Even the few cuts on which Larkins moves into a buoyantly swinging moderato have this quality of utter ease. Fitzgerald's sound is a tad lighter than it would be during the Verve years; she deals with the material with affection, adding only an occasional melodic twist or a few additional words. Only rarely, as in "Makin' Whoopee" and "Star Dust," does she take more than token liberties with the melody.

Ira Gershwin once said: "I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella sing them." Nobody studying this album will dare to disagree.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). Five stars are reserved for retrospectives.

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