Sarah Vaughan ‘Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughan in the Land of Hi-Fi’ (American Jazz Classics) 5/5

The velvety tones of Sarah Vaughan never sounder finer than on this pairing of albums from 1954 and 1955 respectively. The former has the added bonus of featuring trumpeter Clifford Brown who only ever recorded with two other vocalists during his brief career, Helen Merrill and Dinah Washington. Some of the finest work of Vaughan ever laid down on vinyl is contained on this collaboration and they include definitive versions of ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ and ‘April in Paris’, though the set as whole is exceptionally strong throughout. Accompanying the two were musicians of a similarly high calibre such as flautist Herbie Mann and drummer Roy Haynes. Indeed the rhythm section is identical on both albums. For the second album, which featured an all-star larger ensemble (though no less jazzy), Ernie Wilkins was in charge of the orchestrations and enlisted the help of alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Here Vaughan and the band excel on numbers such as ‘Cherokee’, ‘Soon’ and ‘I’ll never smile again’. Part of a much larger series of sides that Sarah Vaughan cut for Mercury/Emarcy (and available elsewhere as a weighty 23 CD box set), this CD condenses the genius of Sarah to its very essence and as such is a first choice recommendation for fans of jazz vocalese unfamiliar with her craft. Alternate version of songs were not included because of time limitations, the two albums together being just under eighty minutes in length.

Tim Stenhouse