'Ella and Basie!' presents the band in the role of accompanist and the group performs its task with the utmost gusto and musicality. Quincy Jones' crisp arrangements don't give individual musicians many soloing opportunities. Rather, they call for precise dynamic shifts and delicate interplay between reeds and brass, highlighting some of the musical areas over which the Basie band reigned supreme. The ensemble drops from a screaming forte to a simmering piano with ease on tunes such as the melancholy 'Satin Doll' and jumping 'Tea for Two'. A classic rhythm section of guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Buddy Catlett, drummer Sonny Payne and Basie himself heighten the energy of the band by remaining laid back yet explosive-the latter being a consequence of Payne's work behind the kit-throughout the album, which consists of a collection of down-to-mid tempo standards.
Fitzgerald, in her prime on this recording, contributes to the sense of excitement by interspersing brief snippets of scatting with boldly sung lyrics. On 'Honeysuckle Rose', the album's opener and most energetic tune, she takes her longest solo, a playful, relatively uncomplicated endeavour, intertwining with Basie's sparse comping, that transitions smoothly into a sax solo and an infectious shout-chorus finale. On 'Them There Eyes', Fitzgerald trades melodies with trumpeter Joe Newman to an obviously arranged but nevertheless swinging affect.
In contrast to her performance on the album's more fiery tracks, Fitzgerald has the opportunity to croon on the ballad 'Dream a Little Dream of Me', which features Basie on organ as well as a short lyrical trombone solo by Benny Powell. Similarly, she takes up a more subdued and forlorn tone on 'My Last Affair'.
Other high points of the album include a well developed arrangement of 'Shiny Stockings' and a dirty shuffle, 'On The Sunny Side Of The Street'. The 2004 CD re-release includes two alternate takes of 'My Last Affair' and four takes of an additional tune, 'Robbin's Nest'.
While 'Ella and Basie!' doesn't individually showcase the many talented musicians in the Count Basie Orchestra, it provides an example of a singer and a band at their most refined levels of musicianship. None of the songs are long or venture into the abstract; this album is jazz in its most primal form.