Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sarah Vaughan Swings Again, 1967

Not that Sarah Vaughan had quit swinging by 1967, but she had been concentrating on more pop-oriented albums such as Viva! Vaughan, Sarah Vaughan Sings the Mancini Songbook, Pop Artistry, and The New Scene in 1965-66 alone. For her final Mercury outing, she was back on jazz territory with a swinging big band session that was issued under the very appropriate title of Sassy Swings Again. The psychedelic look of the album's cover has more to do with the time period than with the music in its grooves. For this project, Vaughan enlisted the help of four different arrangers—Bob James, J.J. Johnson, Manny Albam, and Thad Jones—but the results are surprisingly consistent, as though only one arranger had been employed. The sessions, held over two days in January 1967, included such top jazzmen as Kai Winding, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Newman, Benny Golson, and Phil Woods, so the sound is powerful and exciting. In the company of these outstanding musicians, Sassy was definitely swinging again.

The energy is evident from the very first track, a scat-filled version of "Sweet Georgia Brown," taken at a characteristically breakneck tempo. The song selection is full of classic standards ("S'posin'," "I Want to Be Happy," "Take the A Train"), all of them sung at a medium or fast pace, without much room for ballads. Vaughan even extracts some swing out of Irving Berlin's "All Alone," which Frank Sinatra had recently used as the title track of one of his lesser-known slow albums, and digs deep for some rarely heard numbers like Richard Rodgers's "The Sweetest Sounds," Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's "On the Other Side of the Tracks," and Alan Jay Lerner's "I Had a Ball." Sassy's elegantly swinging reading of the Tony Bennett hit "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" is impressive, and she also has a chance to prove that she can tackle a blues standard convincingly on "Everyday I Have the Blues," one of the standout tracks on the LP. This isn't Vaughan's best-remembered album (in fact, it wasn't until a Facebook friend recently alerted me to it that I was even reminded that it existed; thanks Luis!) but it's a wholly satisfying jazz date with some high-class sidemen that deserves a serious listen.

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