Deeper Into the Vaults

Weird Nightmares and Other Forgotten Dreams

Two better-known but long unavailable vocal benchmarks have also been reissued. Sing a Song of Basie(Verve) was the first and best of the albums by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. The trio did not exist during the year it took to conceive and execute their unique debut, a triumph of multitracking in which three singers become the Count Basie Orchestra (aside from the rhythm section) and capture more of its dynamics and swing than anyone would have thought possible. With Annie Ross hitting the trumpet tuttis and Dave Lambert providing the trombone range and Jon Hendricks wailing the saxophone solos and, in one of the most prodigious verbal feats in jazz history, writing all the lyrics, they replicate the band while infusing it with an exhilaration that only the voice can impart. On their sensational "Everyday," they increase the drama of Ernie Wilkins's instrumental prelude, and capture the subsequent accompanying voicings as Hendricks sings the Joe Williams vocal. They make Neal Hefti's "Little Pony" a horse race, as Hendricks turns Wardell Gray's tenor solo into a stream-of-consciousness rant, and conclude with sublimely comic esprit. (Brass: "Don't be quittin' just when you're hittin' the peak." Gray: "Get a record that will play a week.") After hearing Ross sing the piano solo on "One O'Clock Jump," you will never hear the Basie record the same way again.

After living with this album for years or decades, you begin to hear the original instrumentals as though they had all been planned, composed, inevitable. If I haven't made it clear, there is no scat singing on Sing a Song of Basie. Every note of the original orchestrations and improvisations has a word fitted to it and becomes part of an overall story. As on the original LP, all the lyrics except "One O'Clock Jump" are provided, but one of the startling things about the project is you don't need them; they are all clearly enunciated, despite bruising tempos. Three negligible tracks have been added, including choir-besotted versions of "Four Brothers" and the Hendricks blowout "Cloudburst," presumably because the label didn't want to issue a 30-minute CD. Yet those 30 minutes are magic.

Viva! Vaughan (Verve) was last issued as part of the multibox Complete Sarah Vaughan on Mercury, but has not been seen on its own in 35 years. Recorded in 1964, it fell between the cracks of her jazz following, which at that time felt sorely tested by the meretriciousness of her record company, and the pop world, which could not be seduced by yet another attempt to board the bossa nova bandwagon. Too bad for everyone, especially arranger Frank Foster, some of whose finest post-Basie writing is heard here. Vaughan's wit is evident with "The Boy From Ipanema" 's very first note, a spooky dissonance that slides into pitch, before she embellishes and seduces the shopworn melody into a whole new place. Foster's wit was equal to the task, and with a big band augmented by strings and bongos, he has the time of his life, thrusting blatting trombones at her at one point, sighing flutes at another, or rocking the percussion brigade beyond the usual restraints of faux-Brazilian writing, as on the backbeat drive of "Tea for Two" or the start-and-stop opening of "Stomping at the Savoy." Vaughan embellishes everything, practically recomposing a "Quiet Nights" that might have confused the listeners this album never reached. She and Foster have no more than two or three minutes to make their points, so they do what they can. "Fascinatin' Rhythm" is not the virtuoso extravaganza she later made it, but—like Mingus working his way through weird nightmares—she lets you know she already owns it.

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