SHE'S THE first lady of jazz; he's arguably the finest exponent of solo jazz guitar. Together, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass make for a splendid pairing on "Easy Living," an intimate collection of standards.
Many of the songs here are so priceless they almost outshine the performers, which in this case is really saying something. Topping the list is "Love For Sal," "Green Dolphin Street" and "I Don't Stand a Ghost Of a Chance," all of them neatly framed by the lush chords and gentle melodies that Pass coaxes so effortlessly from his slightly amplified guitar.
As a rule, the better the song, the better the performance. Fitzgerald's interpretation of the forgettable "My Ship," for example, is tentative, as if she weren't quite comfortable with the lyric, and her reading of "My Man" seems emotionally detached. Far better is "Don't Worry About Me," a genuinely moving performance, or her similarly poignant treatment of "Ghost," which is tagged by a lovely scat and guitar exchange. Another highlight is "Slow Boat To China," a romantic fantasy tied to a gently swinging pulse.
Pianist Oscar Peterson opens his new album "If You Could See Me Now" in a equally relaxed mood with "Weird Blues," and later returns to an easy tempo with a couple of ballads and one bossanova. In between, though, sparks fly.
For starters, there's "On Danish Shore." Performed in a breathless pace maintained by drummer Martin Drew, it holds a series of dazzling improvisations by Peterson, Pass and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. Another delightful if exhausting performance is "Limehouse Blues," fueled by some of the most dynamic and daring excursions this quartet has ever put on record. ELLA FITZGERALD AND JOE PASS --
"Easy Living," (Pablo 2310 921).
THE OSCAR PETERSON FOUR --
"If You Could See Me Now" (Pablo 2310 918).
Joe Pass and Oscar Peterson appear Sunday at Wolf Trap. Carmen McRae is also on the bill.