August , 2013
Review by Justin Press
"Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection"
Label: Concord/Pablo Records
Right out of the box, the new CD release Sophisticated Lady takes you to places right out of your cinematic mind with the title track (unreleased version, more on that *). Sarah Vaughan, she of the smoky, somewhat husk-filled voice, one of the Jazz generation's true gifts. "In A Sentimental Mood" contains the orchestral lush arrangements that made Ellington such an iconic figure, with Vaughan seducing the words from the page, harlequin tied to a moonlit evening.
Recorded in the early fall of 1979 thru Winter of 1980, these recordings are seeing a special release to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Pablo Records, home to such giants as Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Joe Pass, John Coltrane and Oscar Peterson to just name a few, it's monumental collection of the 20th Century's greatest jazz artists, complete game-changers. And Sarah Vaughan showcased at her zenith on this collection, is another stalwart to the Pablo cannon. To it's merit Pablo has included (6) previously unreleased recordings* containing the Benny Carter arrangements.
The breezy "Day Dream" pulls back on the after dark noir of the previous tracks and invites some fluid guitar melodies with Vaughan weaving around the sax and piano runs. A similar voice comes to mind as you listen to Vaughan, her contemporary Shirley Bassey. Vaughan too is a confident, hard-charger who doesn't just sing the lyrics, but brings forth the real grit and emotion swirling in their essence. "I Am A Lucky So And So" is pure French Quarter Speakeasy; it's a woozy walk down the street to the next bar or a pair of lover's arms. Pay special attention the "wah wah" trumpet that follows every one of Vaughan's exaltations.
The brilliance of "Mood Indigo" brings upon visions of (and bear with me here), Janis Joplin. Throaty, sexy, wanton but also dizzying and desperate, "take a little piece of my heart….". Changing gears, you need a gussying up song for a night out, "In A Mellow Tone" is custom-made for bow-tie adjustments and earring clipping, it's sophisticated but frisky, even the scat that Vaughan lays down is out for a good time. "Lush Life" brings forth the Nina Simone comparison in full-bloom but where Simone stayed lower register; Vaughan can climb the ladder though "Lush Life" is a slow crawler so there is never a need to ascend.
Vaughan may be a jazz extraordinaire but she can kneel to the blues as well and the tasty dish served on "Rocks In My Bed" is Mississippi porch mysticism with some outstanding runs by guitarist Pee Wee Clayton. It's pure Juju in high heels and a silk dress. However it's "Everything But You" that really sums up the collection as Vaughan's broken-hearted bitterness slides off her forked-tongue that the listener can envision the fading light in a smoke-filled apartment high above the city but feeling like you've been shown the basement.