Music Reviews: Sarah Vaughan - Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection and John Coltrane - Afro Blue Impressions

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Concord Music Group is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Pablo Records, the jazz label founded in 1973 by producer Norman Granz, with two indispensable double-disc sets. Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection includes 27 tracks featuring vocalist Sarah Vaughan. The collection opens with a set of six previously unreleased tracks from an August 13, 1979 session.

Vaughan’s impeccable phrasing is supported by Benny Carter’s tasteful arrangements for the half-dozen previously unheard cuts. Zoot Sims soars with beautiful tenor sax solos on “Sophisticated Lady,” “Solitude,” and “Day Dream,” never threatening to steal the spotlight from The Divine One. Other highlights include the featured trumpet and flugelhorn of Waymon Reed, particularly on tunes like “What Am I Here For?” and “I’m Just a Lucky So and So.” The previously released tunes are culled from Vaughan’s two Duke Ellington Songbook albums, released in 1980.

Norman Granz biographer Tad Hershorn contributed brand new, extensive liner notes for Sophisticated Lady. The tunes are broken down by session, all of which occurred within a one-year timespan (from August ‘79 to January ‘80). Speaking on the importance of the previously unreleased tracks, compilation producer Nick Phillips points out, “These are not alternate takes. They are recordings of entirely different arrangements of the songs than those that were released on the original Ellington Songbook albums.” And rest easy, anyone concerned about fidelity—these recordings sound terrific.

Afro Blue cover (200x200).jpgAlso available from Concord is the John Coltrane live collection (culled from concert recordings made in 1963) Afro Blue Impressions. The majority of the cuts on this two-disc set were first released under the same title in 1977, a decade after the tenor and soprano sax titan’s untimely death at age 40. The first seven tunes come from a November 2, 1963 concert recorded in Berlin with his classic quartet: McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums).

The next five were recorded a couple weeks earlier in Stockholm on October 22, ‘63. Of those, the final three—“Naima,” “I Want to Talk About You,” “My Favorite Things”—were originally found on different vinyl releases from Pablo (the first two on The European Tour, the third on Live Trane: The European Tours).

Afro Blue Impressions, though not necessarily the place to start, is an essential Coltrane live album. Both versions of “My Favorite Things” are trance-inducing, especially the epic 21-minute Berlin take. The other members of the classic quartet are in the zone, as well. Check out Tyner’s mesmerizing solo on “Cousin Mary” for a prime example. Benny Green’s original LP liner notes are reprinted in the booklet, along with brand new notes by Neil Tesser. Not only does this reissue help commemorate the 40th anniversary of Pablo, it also marks the 50th anniversary of these timeless performances.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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