Robin McKelle, Impressions of Ella Reviews
Canon Entry Point:
Impressions of Ella – Robin McKelle
by Sylvannia Garutch
The audacity of talent required to fill the shoes of a legend like Ella Fitzgerald is daunting, to say the least. Yet, Robin McKelle, with her panoramic exploration of American music – from country to rhythm and blues – takes up the mantle with graceful assurance in her latest offering, Impressions of Ella.
This tribute album is a thoughtful and evocative exploration of Ella’s enormous musical universe through eleven songs. To help realize her vision, McKelle has summoned a trio of revered jazz luminaries – Kenny Washington on drums, bassist Peter Washington, and NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron on piano. Their combined expertise imparts a synergistic flair to the record, demonstrating the sacred bond between a vocalist and her accompanists.
“Old Devil Moon” sets the pace, while “My One and Only” and “Lush Life” highlight McKelle’s mature, seasoned voice – her experiences resonating with each lyric. In “How High The Moon,” we hear the swing and rhythm that was her gateway to vocal jazz. She pulls us into the heart of her personal journey with her scatting embellishments of the melody and, in doing so, revivifies these jazz standards with newfound depth and wisdom.
Her version of “I Won’t Dance” features Grammy Award winner Kurt Elling, serving as an homage to the many celebrated duets Ella recorded with Louis Armstrong. Here, the chemistry between McKelle and Elling mirrors that of two old friends reunited, preserving the charm and joviality of the original tune.
“Embraceable You” exemplifies McKelle’s command of her artistry, while “Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me” is a potent reminder of her emotional maturity. In “Robbin’s Nest,” she brings a playful tone, a wink to the listener, underlining her connection to the music as her scatting bounces with the joys of bebop.
The arrangement of “April in Paris” is a delightful surprise, transformed into a slinky bossa nova – an unprecedented adaptation, according to drummer Kenny Washington. The change in style is emblematic of McKelle’s ability to innovatively express these classics without losing their essence.
Closing with “Taking a Chance On Love,” McKelle brings us full circle – a return to the traditional swing that jump-started her career, bridging past and present, nostalgia and novelty.
Impressions of Ella is a homage to an icon, an entry, and a fresh contribution to the complex evolving canon of jazz’s discography. Mirroring the intricacies of a musical canon, the album allows repetition to revisit the echoes of jazz’s storied past while unveiling fresh layers of interpretation and emotional depth. McKelle’s unique voice and perspective function like the retrograde and inversion in a canon, offering a new yet familiar line that harmonizes with the classic tunes.
Her voice, a new melodic line, follows her own intervallic structure that challenges and enriches it, providing a sophisticated counterpoint to the traditional melodies we all know and love. This relationship, like a well-crafted musical canon, interweaves past and present, maintaining the nostalgic charm while introducing new colors into the spectrum of jazz in its augmentation and diminution to ensure jazz remains a dynamic and evolving genre. In this sense, Impressions of Ella is proof of the timeless adaptability of jazz and its unending journey forward, even as it looks back.