Friday, August 16, 2013

Sarah Vaughan: “Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection” (2013) CD Review

Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection is an excellent two-disc set which includes two albums, Duke Ellington Song Book One and Duke Ellington Song Book Two, along with six previously unreleased tracks. The music is arranged in chronological order of the recording sessions, so the songs are not presented the way they were on the original releases. Thus, the collection opens with the six previously unreleased tracks. The songs are from eight sessions in 1979 and 1980.

Sarah Vaughan’s vocals are so beautiful, so impressive. She is one of the great jazz singers. Her voice is moving, even when there are no words. Just listen to “Chelsea Bridge” or “I Didn’t Know About You” for examples. Something about this music works to make you feel so good. There is also something undeniably sexy about many of these tracks.

This collection also includes fairly extensive new liner notes by Tad Hershorn.

“Sophisticated Lady”

That first session – from August 13, 1979 – starts with “Sophisticated Lady,” with a beautiful orchestral arrangement that of course never outshines Sarah’s remarkable vocal performance. She can rise to great heights, then hit those low notes. She also has a sense of play in this rendition. There is also a nice, brief lead part on saxophone by Zoot Sims.

The second rendition, from August 15, 1979, is truly sexy, with a smaller group (no strings). It has that perfect late-night smoky club feel. The instrumental section is absolutely wonderful, with great stuff from Frank Wess on saxophone, Jimmy Rowles on piano and Joe Pass on guitar. But it’s still her vocals that really make this track spectacular, one of the collection’s best.

“In A Sentimental Mood”

The previously unreleased version of “In A Sentimental Mood” should bring out the romantic in all of us. I can just lose myself in Sarah’s voice. “It’s all like a dream to call you mine.” Listening to this music is like entering a dream, or like a dream reaching out to envelop our waking selves.

There is a different orchestral arrangement of this song on the second disc, this one by Billy Byers. I especially love the quieter sections of that version, where it’s mostly her vocals.


“Solitude” is absolutely gorgeous, grabbing you from the first notes. What a sweet and delicious vocal performance. Even as she sings that she’s “filled with despair,” you’re going to feel so damn good. This previously unreleased track is one of this collection’s highlights. Zoot Sims provides a beautiful lead on saxophone.

The second version opens with a really nice intro on piano, setting the tone perfectly. Sarah Vaughan’s vocals are so thoughtful, so moving.

“Day Dream”

“Day Dream” features another powerful vocal performance, as well as some nice work by Jimmy Rowles on piano and Zoot Sims on saxophone during the instrumental section.

Sarah Vaughan gives an impressive vocal performance on the other version of this song too. She can do so much vocally, and somehow it all works perfectly. There’s a cool lead by Waymon Reed on flugelhorn, and I like Andy Simpkins’ work on bass.

“Tonight I Shall Sleep (With A Smile On My Face)”

The previously unreleased version of “Tonight I Shall Sleep (With A Smile On My Face)” is a romantic gem with an air of magic about it. After listening to it, I believe I shall sleep with a smile on my face too. The instrumental section is likewise beautiful.

The second orchestral version of this song has quite a different feel. Arranged by Billy Byers, this one features Frank Wess on flute. (I actually prefer the first version.)

The previously unreleased session also includes “Lush Life,” and this version is all about Sarah Vaughan’s vocals. A second orchestral version from exactly a month later is included on the second disc.

“All Too Soon”

“All Too Soon” is one of my favorites, due almost entirely to Sarah’s vocals. They’re so smooth, so strong, and in taking a sad situation and singing about it, she makes us happy. “For you whispered good bye all too soon.” The love affair continues in the music.

“What Am I Here For?” is a lot of fun, particularly in the instrumental section, and of course also in Sarah’s playful vocal performance. “I’m Just A Lucky So And So” is also great fun. I love the way she repeats “Just a lucky” at the end, letting it build to the song’s conclusion.

“I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart”

Sarah Vaughan switches to a big band for the first New York session (September 12, 1979). “I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart” has a joyous, delightful sound. Sarah shows the power of her voice, and still plays around, like on “’Twas the sweetest melody.” And there is some tremendous work from the horn section.

“It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”

There is a great big band arrangement of “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Though when her vocals come in, it’s basically just her and that cool rhythm on drums. Then she breaks into the chorus, complete with some wonderful scat, and the band really cooks. This version is a lot of fun, with a terrific amount of energy (all stuffed into the shortest track of this collection – less than two and a half minutes).

“Rocks In My Bed”

It’s all blues for her rendition of “Rocks In My Bed,” featuring some excellent guitar work by PeeWee Crayton, and some wonderful stuff on piano by Lloyd Glenn. And man, can Sarah sell this one. It also doesn’t hurt that this version has a great lead section by Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson on saxophone. (He also provides some vocals in the second half of the song, with Sarah backing him up.) This was recorded on January 22, 1980.

“Prelude To A Kiss”

The final session – from January 23, 1980 – features Sarah Vaughan accompanied only by Mike Wofford on piano and Joe Pass on guitar. “Prelude To A Kiss” has a sexy but casual, late-night vibe. Her voice is the main instrument here.

“Everything But You,” also from that session, is seriously cool. Sarah is really enjoying herself here, playing around. There is a nice piano lead by Mike Wofford.

“I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues”

This collection ends with another cool track, a wonderful bit of blues titled “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues.” It begins with her singing a cappella, which is just perfect. Later there is a section where she sings with just the lightest touch by the other two musicians. It’s incredible. That leads to a nice guitar lead section. Sarah sings a cappella again at the end. This is a wonderful closing number.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Sophisticated Lady
  2. In A Sentimental Mood
  3. Lush Life
  4. Solitude
  5. Day Dream
  6. Tonight I Shall Sleep (With A Smile On My Face)
  7. Sophisticated Lady
  8. Solitude
  9. Day Dream
  10. All Too Soon
  11. What Am I Here For?
  12. I’m Just A Lucky So And So
  13. Chelsea Bridge
  14. Mood Indigo
  15. I Didn’t Know About You

Disc 2

  1. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
  2. Black Butterfly
  3. In A Mellow Tone
  4. It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
  5. In A Sentimental Mood
  6. Lush Life
  7. I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
  8. Tonight I Shall Sleep (With A Smile On My Face)
  9. Rocks In My Bed
  10. Prelude To A Kiss
  11. Everything But You
  12. I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues

Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection is scheduled to be released on August 20, 2013 through Concord Music Group.

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