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'Gerald Goes Gershwin!
on May 26, 2014
The main issues I have with this release are the slow-moving tempo's in so many arrangements. Some stuff sounds as though it should be sped up a few seconds, others need to be in an elevated Key. There are differences in 'ballads', versus "slow-moving" tunes. "Lady, Be Good", or "Isn't It A Pity" are ballads, therefore the tempos are taken down to emphasise a mood/feel.
"S Wonderful", "Treat Me Rough", "Of Thee I Sing", and "Bidin' My Time" among others, are 'slow-moving'. Hearing the light-hearted melodies along with their lyrical content -- the lack of swiftness in addition to the lowered-key causes a subdued effect. It sounds as if they're playing from a warped record, or defective turntable. Hopefully, this is due to remastering and not the work of 'Riddle. Otherwise, his work is a pleasure to tune into. It's just frustrating how he missed the mark on numerous, otherwise, perfect arrangements!
I also didn't feel that each composition translated well as a brassy tune. Some of the lyrics seem awkwardly cumbersome for such arrangements, such as on "Looking For A Boy", or "They All Laughed". Both compositions have been arranged in multiple ways throughout time. "Looking For A Boy", in my opinion, is much more favorable in a stripped-down manner, accompanied by just a piano, that's all it needs. The simplicity of the piano gives the melody a stage to shine on, this can be heard on Ella's Decca debut album. "They All Laughed" feels too "wordy", the brass just brings more to the situation. Songwriting like this should never be paired with equal-parts sound.
I felt that the project's strong-points were the uptempos. "Cheerful Little Earful", "Strike Up The Band", "Things Are Looking Up", "You've Got What Gets Me", and "Slap That Bass", to name a few. The drumline effect on "Strike Up The Band" is artfully divine, and the transformation of "Slap That Bass" into a brassy, swingin' rhythm is unreal, especially if you've seen Fred Astaire's version in "Shall We Dance". It still fascinates me how one composition is magically sculpted, and re-formed into unique arrangements & interpretations, while remaining true to what it is, this exact "thing" is done repeatedly within this project, but "Slap That Bass" is pure GOLD!
Now, as for 'Geralds vocal performance throughout this record, it's 'fair' (my opinion). I think she sounds better when she sings in the higher-pitch she uses while on tour. Her studio-vocals, and live-vocals are quite unique from the other. If you're a fan, this is not news to you. I'm not a fan of the deeper tone she uses throughout a lot of her studio recordings. However, it wasn't overdone on this release. The numbers I found to be most enjoyable contain her medium, or higher-pitch. "You've Got What Gets Me" contains the light, feminine Vocal that I am certainly in love with. "Cousin In Milwaukee" is performed in a similar key, she sounds like such a lady in this Key. She does a great job on all of my chosen favorites, but I truly adore the "Milk-&-Honey" in that upper-register.
Very minimal in regards to 'Gerald's performance. She's Lady Ella, what can I say? She's lovely! She did her thing on this record, but there were also some things I didn't particularly care for, but like 'Riddle, her worst is her worst, but her best is always her best.
Something I would've had more pleasure in hearing would more 'Ragtime' arrangements. We revisit the Land of Dixie with "The Real American Folk Song", this is a thrilling moment in this collection, being that it is the Mother of all Gershwin tunes here. The Holly-Jolly Ragtime-rhythm is an original structure for most material written in this project. To hear this tune was such a delight, and a celebration of the original formula. "Who Cares" would've been divine in this same manner, as well as "Boy Wanted". Key-slappin', Ragtime-rhythms could've brought lots of character to those melodies, while adding just a bit more interest to the overall 'book. But, keeping things to a minimum allows it to sparkle & shine brightly in a world of it's own. Although I still, really, really, really would've liked to hear more in this style!
While this is my prefered songbook of the "'Gerald-Verve-Songbook" series, I chose to hold on to 2 stars. I just believe it could've been better, considering it's a collaboration of Swing's finest. With some minor adjustments and attention to detail, could've been untouchable. I expected a certain quality from both parties in a slightly larger scale. Ella performed according to each composition and how they were arranged by 'Riddle, as a result
Lastly, 'Riddles work has an animated wit that catches my ear each time I hear it play. He's worked with many, and his work is quite distinguishable. The quirky instruments, and cunning arrangements are lovely to hear. The Suites & Preludes are true works of art! The Orchestration in "Fidgety feet" is sensational, as is "Prelude lll", it's like sitting in a Theater, while patiently awaiting a show!
There is so much more I'd like to touch on with the music -- more favorites of mine, as well as other Gershwin tunes that should've been included, and more rambling about 'Riddle. I could go on forever, but I must go!
Enjoy this collection, my friends!