Thursday, June 09, 2016

Verve/UMe to Reissue Ella Fitzgerald's 'Mack the Knife: Ella In Berlin' and Jimmy Smith's 'Root Down: Jimmy Smith Live!' on 180-gram Vinyl LPs‏

Verve/UMe is proud to announce, as part of Verve's 60(th) anniversary celebration, new vinyl reissues on June 24 for two long unavailable live performance classics by a pair of jazz legends - the peerless Ella Fitzgerald's Mack The Knife: Ella In Berlin and funk-master Jimmy Smith's Root Down: Jimmy Smith Live!. Originally released in 1960 and 1972 respectively, the albums display a high level of creativity from a pair of jazz masters. Though serving different audiences, the recordings are linked by exuberance, spontaneity and profound substance, hallmarks of jazz expression. 

Recorded in front of an enthusiastic Saturday night audience in Berlin's Deutschlandhalle, Mack The Knife vividly demonstrates Ella Fitzgerald's unparalleled improvisational vocal artistry. With her regular quartet at the time - pianist Paul Smith, guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Alfred Middlebrooks and drummer Gus Johnson - the albums swings furiously. While emphasizing as usual the Great American Songbook - "Gone With The Wind," "The Lady Is A Tramp," "The Man I Love," "Summertime," "Too Darn Hot," "Misty" and "Lorelei" - Mack The Knife culminates in brilliant, extended excursions on Kurt Weill's title piece and a breathtaking, scat-singing romp on "How High the Moon."

Unplanned as a recording, this performance was serendipitously immortalized when Fitzgerald's manager/producer and visionary Verve label founder Norman Granz allowed WDR, West German Radio, to record and broadcast the performance. The LP was a major hit, peaking at No. 11 on Billboard magazine's 200 albums chart and becoming a landmark in the legacy of live jazz vocal artistry - the album that, out of many Ella classics, has maintained her undisputed position as the First Lady of Song for more than 80 years since she exploded onto the scene with Chick Webb in 1935.

Jimmy Smith, after almost singlehandedly redefining the Hammond B3 organ as a vital hard-bop instrument in the 1950s, then ushering in the Soul Jazz era a few years later, signed with Verve in 1962. At Granz's label Smith embarked on several journeys, including a deeper R&B context, remarkable orchestral collaborations with Oliver Nelson and two extraordinary pairings with the legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery. But it was his live performances that captured the unmistakable late-night, down-home aura of the organ joint.

On Root Down: Jimmy Smith Live!, recorded at L.A.'s Bombay Bicycle Club, Smith is surrounded by a stellar ensemble of musicians who ably straddled the worlds of classic jazz and blues and contemporary funk and rock. All heavily in-demand, first-call players for both recording and touring, they played with a veritable who's who of top R&B/Soul/Jazz artists including Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, the Jackson 5, Isley Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Les McCann. With guitarist Arthur Adams, electric bassist Wilton Felder (at the time also the saxophonist in the Crusaders), drummer Paul Humphrey, percussionist Buck Clarke and Steve Williams on harmonica, the band and Smith dive into a smoking deep-funk groove.

Root Down revitalized Smith's reputation as a prime master of jazz funk and became a touchstone for a new generation. Avery Parrish's iconic 1940 blues "After Hours" and "Let's Stay Together," a No. 1 hit for Al Green at the time, both get ultra-funky re-imaginations alongside balladeer Peter Chase's "Everyone Under the Sun" (written for this album), a couple of Smith compositions based on his sign of Sagittarius - "Sagg Shootin' His Arrow" and "Slow Down Sagg" - and most notably "Root Down," which reemerged as a prominent sample on the Beastie Boys' track of the same name on their 1994 album Ill Communication. Root Down is simultaneously being made available in high-resolution digital audio (192kHz/24-bit and 96kHz/24-bit). (Mack The Knife: Ella In Berlin is currently available in the same high-resolution formats.)

Whether one is a devoted fan of Ella Fitzgerald or Jimmy Smith, exceptional live jazz recordings or just wonderful music, these two albums are a must.

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