Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ella Fitzgerald: The Best of the Concert Years [Pablo, 2003]
With minor exceptions not named Cassandra or Sarah (or Carmen or Betty), I find just two jazz singers of consistent interest as melodic improvisers and sonic producers. Ella did sink to shtick on the four albums boiled down here, but on this selection the live format turns a pop interpreter into a jazz musician. She's 54 on the first two tracks and 35 on the next six with little change in clarity or sprightliness. But by the last five, when she's 65, her voice has thickened drastically, and to compensate she overdoes it like her lessers--flatting lines, distorting words, laying on gutturals and vibrato. Listen three times and you'll hang on every phrase. A