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January/February 2006

Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald: Live at Montreux 1969

The world-famous Montreux festival was still a relatively low-luster affair when Ella Fitzgerald first showed up in June 1969--which adds to this 66-minute set's homespun appeal. Never one for putting on airs, Fitzgerald is in her girlish element as she charms the SRO crowd with her fractured French and, iterating her perennial concert mantra, encourages pianist Tommy Flanagan to "play pretty for the people."

Of the 14 tunes covered, 10 are lifted from her just-released, Norman Granz-produced Sunshine of Your Love, a mixed bag of standards and contemporary pop-rock tunes that earned only so-so reviews but long remained one of Fitzgerald's personal favorites. Loveliest is Jobim's orchid-delicate "Useless Landscape." Most unusual is "A Place for Lovers," a tender ballad immensely better than the Vittorio De Sica-helmed film from which it hails. Most sublime is a near-wordless treatment of "A Man and a Woman" which (thanks both to Fitzgerald's inspired handling and its status as the title track from the most popular French film of the day) earns the loudest hurrahs from the obviously smitten audience.

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