Ella Fitzgerald was just a tad past her prime during this 1979 concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival with the Count Basie Orchestra, though she still is very much a swinging vocalist who can keep an audience in the palm of her hand. With her regular trio, including pianist Paul Smith, bassist Keter Betts, and drummer Mickey Roker accompanying her for most of the concert, plus the powerful Basie band pushing her, Ella gives her all on every number, interpolating quotes from a number of different songs, both familiar and obscure. She's at her best in the up-tempo swingers that were part of her repertoire for ages, among them "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "After You've Gone." Her vibrato is a bit more noticeable during "'Round Midnight," though it is still an effective interpretation. Ella's highlight is easily her scat treatment of "Flying Home," which mixes in so many song quotes that is difficult to track all of them ("Moose the Mooche," "On the Trail," and "I'se a Muggin'" are among them), while she also simulates a number of instruments, too. Basie finally takes over at the piano for the last two numbers, including an impromptu blues that gives way to "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," followed by Ella's touching interpretation of "I've Got a Crush on You," with Smith back on piano. The audio and video have some imperfections, as it is unlikely that producer Norman Granz documented the concert with the intention of commercial issue, but any fan of Ella Fitzgerald will want this rewarding DVD in his or her collection. ~ Ken Dryden
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- Guard Sessions 53-54/55-56 (Smith, Keely)