. . . comes from the outpouring of archival jazz releases I’ve been writing about lately. This, from my point of view, is the very best of that harvest: an astounding, life-affirming 1962 concert, buried in the archives of Ella Fitzgerald’s manager, completely forgotten until now, then released this fall as The Lost Berlin Tapes.
Back in West Berlin on the heels of two first-class live albums recorded there (1960’s Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin and 1961’s Ella Returns to Berlin) plus a solid studio record based on classic swing and bop (1962’s Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!) Fitzgerald and her virtuosic “fellas” — Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass, Stan Levey on drums — are at their absolute peak, in tune with each other and with an extroverted, enthralled Sportpalast Arena audience.
Every single note of this concert radiates warmth and inner joy, even when Ella detours into torch songs like “Cry Me A River” and Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” And when she and the fellas swing on “Jersey Bounce,” jump on “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie,” dig deep into Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Him So” (resulting in an immediate, complete encore!), they are unstoppable. And then she breaks into her trademark scat singing on “Mack the Knife,” playfully evoking Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong’s versions, “forgetting” the words like she did for real two years before and making up her own, cruising to an utterly triumphant finish. Which she can’t help but top with the powerhouse down-tempo finale “Wee Baby Blues.”
I have had no finer feeling listening to music this year; I believe that whatever might ail your soul in these strange days, The Lost Berlin Tapes is mighty good medicine for it. Which is why you need to hear this, right now!
My #1 album? The polar opposite of this, but equally beautiful in its own way – The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus’ extraordinary Songs of Yearning/Nocturnes. Get this limited edition double album (LP or CD) from Occultation Recordings on Bandcamp, before the first pressing is completely gone!