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Ella Fitzgerald in Pure DSD256 from HDTT

09-19-2022 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 123

Whenever I see a Pure DSD transfer from HDTT, I know they've found an excellent source tape that is in great condition. And these are always wonderful to hear. Recently I started looking around for Ella Fitzgerald recordings at HDTT and I've found four in Pure DSD256 transfers that are well worth bringing to your attention. They are all excellent albums and the sound quality is top notch.

For a complete listing of all the Ella Fitzgerald albums at HDTT, see HERE

Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Johnny Mercer Song Book, arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle. HDTT 1964/2022 (Pure DSD256) HERE

Something of an overlooked gem, this collaboration by The First Lady of Song with Nelson Riddle's excellent arrangements is not to be missed. Ella Fitzgerald was frequently at her inimitable best when singing to arrangements by Riddle (as were Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, and Linda Ronstadt). Of her various Song Book recordings for Verve, I often think this is her most successful. Her voice and delivery just perfectly suit the urbane lyrics of Johnny Mercer. Several of the other song books were more popular (Gershwin, Cole Porter), but that does not mean they were better, or as well executed.

The Johnny Mercer songs selected here are typically slower numbers, many with a very languid, rich, laid-back quality to them. Fitzgerald and Riddle honor them with performances that bring out the subtle beauty of Mercer's lyrics and the contrasts he creates.

The transfer directly from the tape to DSD256 is excellent. Very clean, very clear, very low noise floor. It is a better transfer in every way than the 24/96 HD Tracks release I have. In this HDTT release, there is depth, texture, harmonic richness and frequency extension in the sound. The HD Tracks sounds superficial and hard by comparison, stripped of harmonic overtones.

HDTT has done its usually very excellent job in making the transfer. The sound quality suggests that they must have found a really nice source tape for this release. The original Verve recording is very nice, with detailed, well balanced sound and good frequency extension. Well done! This is a very welcome release.

Ella Fitzgerald Live in France, with Oscar Peterson, Roy Eldridge, Stuff Smith, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. HDTT Mono 1957/2021 (Pure DSD256) HERE

Oh, such fun! What a great group of performers coming together here.

Ella Fitzgerald is often at her very best in live recordings where her tremendous talent as a "performer" shines forth. And this album does not disappoint. Fitzgerald's scat singing on "Air Mail Special" and "It Don't Mean a Thing" is simply a mind-boggling trip. She's beyond great. These two cuts illustrate why she was such an exceptional and beloved performer.

The opening "Intro" (track 1), with Stuff Smith on violin and Don Abney on piano, sets expectations for the excitement to come in this great on-stage jam session. When Oscar Peterson takes over in later tracks, things just get even better.

Roy Eldridge on trumpet, Herb Ellis on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, Philly Jo Jones on drums—wow. Just an amazing group backing Ella Fitzgerald and then getting to shine both as an instrumental group and in their own extended solos.

The sound quality of the mono live recording is very good. It reflects the usual challenges in a live recording and sounds a bit more distant (particularly when contrasted to the very upfront sound of the studio recording bonus tracks, see below). Nonetheless, the sound is clean, clear, and with good frequency extension. Ella Fitzgerald's voice is captured particularly clearly with excellent resolution. That HDTT was willing to make the transfer directly to DSD256 indicates that they had a very good tape to work from.

As a bonus, the album includes four tracks from the Rogers & Hart Song Book, recorded in studio in 1957 so of similar vintage. The transition from the mono live recording to the stereo studio recording is a bit jarring if not prepared for it, but that aside, the sound quality of the Rogers & Hart section is superb. It is a real treat to have these songs.

This album is a very welcome addition to the various Ella Live recordings in my library. Now I'm just hoping HDTT can find a good tape of Live in Berlin to transfer... 

Ella Fitzgerald Swings Brightly, with Nelson Riddle. HDTT 1959/2019 (Pure DSD256 Redux) HERE

HDTT cover on the left, original Verve cover on the right.

This is a great studio album, with Fitzgerald once again partnering with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra. Verve recording engineer Val Valentin works his magic to capture some excellent sound in these recordings made between January 1959 and December 1961. And for multiple recording sessions spread over a two-year period, there is remarkable consistency across the entire album.

Fitzgerald now takes us to new fields for creative material. Here we have songs by Walter Donaldson with "Love Me or Leave Me" (one of his very best); "Don't Be That Way" by Benny Goodman (one of his few songwriting attempts); "Pick Yourself Up" and "I Won't Dance" by Jerome Kern (before the Jerome Kern Song Book released in 1963); "The Gentleman is a Dope" by Rodgers and Hammerstein; and Duke Ellington's "What Am I Here For." All excellent, and all delightfully performed by Fitzgerald and Riddle.

Ella Fitzgerald Sings Songs From Let No Man Write My Epitaph. HDTT 1962/2022 (DSD256, DXD) HERE

Okay, not Pure DSD, but still a great sounding release from HDTT. I don't have another digital release of this Verve album to offer some comparisons, but there is no need. This is the release of this album to get. The sound is beautifully clear, clean and well balanced. The sound of Ella's marvelous voice is simply delicious. The piano accompaniment is very nicely laid behind her voice. The combination of a great original recording and an excellent transfer by HDTT make this a "knock it out of the park" release.

Songs from Let No Man Write My Epitaph is not a Pure DSD transfer. HDTT notes, "This release was edited in DXD PCM from a DSD256 Master then the DXD edited master was used to generate the final DSD files using Merging Technologies Album Publishing." Presumably, the vintage tape needed a bit of help. The end result is a terrific sounding release.

If you like Ella, you will love these releases from HDTT. They are worthy additions to every music library.