Sarah Vaughan ‘After Hours’ (Columbia/Pure Pleasure) 4/5

Part of the re-issue series that UK company Pure Pleasure are engaged in, this is not to be confused with a later original release of the same name from 1961 on Roulette with a different set of songs altogether. This Columbia album originally came out as an LP in 1961, when Vaughan’s career was still ascending and it features in mono sound some of the classic early Columbia sides that Sarah Vaughan recorded for the label during her formative years between 1949 and 1951. They were invariably backed by a variety of orchestras that featured both woodwind and string accompaniments, and were aimed to attract a wider audience beyond the strictly defined jazz audience. As such they differ from the smaller group combos that Vaughan recorded for in the mid-late 1950’s. For all that, the distinctive voice was already in place. Sarah Vaughan recorded several of these numbers on numerous occasions, yet the interpretations here have a special feel and invariably are performed at a slower tempo than what might one normally expect. This is the case for example of, ‘Summertime’, which features a strong bass line intro complete with both strings and brass, and the slinky piano touches hint at a more classically oriented interpretation. Interestingly, the introduction to, ‘Perdido’, has a strong big band flavour à la Ellington which should come as little surprise since it was composed by a trombonist in the Ellington band, Juan Tizol, and the natural deepness of Sarah Vaughan’s voice is ideally suited to interpreting this song. Here, the vocal gymnastics of the singer are given full reign and the brassy big band arrangements are matched by the lead singer’s vocal gymnastics. Hollywood-esque ballads are possibly the objective on ‘Thinking Of You’, where the lush orchestration and background piano make for an intriguing combination. The vocal gymnastics are pure Sassy. Taken at a more leisurely tempo than per usual, ‘Just Friends’ is embellished by the lushness of the strings. A real favourite that has stood the test of time is ‘Black Coffee’, with oboe and strings featuring in the intro, and the Joe Lippman Orchestra accompanying Sassy on what proves to be a somewhat restrained interpretation and a fine alternative to the Peggy Lee interpretation of the song. On the immortal Gershwin number, ‘Summertime’, Sarah Vaughan succeeds in interpreting the song from both a classical and jazz perspective. Meanwhile on, ‘Just friends’, it is in fact the lushness of the string accompaniment that impresses, and this proves to be a most restrained interpretation of the song. The only pity from this otherwise excellent selection is that the eight sides that were recorded with the Jimmy Jones band and featured an octet with the then young Miles Davis are not included here. While this is by no means the complete selection of Columbia sides, and there exist vinyl offers from the 1970’s that incorporate a wider range of the Columbia years, this nonetheless more compact selection has its own compensations and delights, and as an introduction to the sound of the young Sassy, it comes highly recommended.

Tim Stenhouse