Live In Japan
A Magical Night with the Husky-Voiced Queen
Jazz vocal music peaked on September 24, 1973. On that night, Sarah Vaughan gave a concert at the Sun Plaza Hall in Tokyo. She and her trio went through many of the tunes she'd been singing for decades— "There Will Never Be Another You," "On a Clear Day," "Bye Bye Blackbird"—in other words, the jazz singer's songbook.
Virtually every one of the twenty-seven songs on this set offers an unsurpassed thrill. Though Vaughan's studio records (including her magical 1954 Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown and the equally joyous Swingin' Easy from the same year) are considered definitive post-bebop singing, Live in Japan improves on these landmarks. It finds Vaughan linking the flirtatious, breezing-along style of her early years to more cerebral pursuits, including bold top-to-bottom reconceptions of familiar melodies. She drapes extended phrases across the rhythm in almost haphazard fashion, rendering normal notions of tempo irrelevant. She rewrites some themes to make them much hipper—"Like Someone in Love" has a touch of Coltrane in it, while "My Funny Valentine" aims for the pastel colors associated with pianist Bill Evans. There's a rare moment when Vaughan, the most musically astute of vocalists, steps behind the piano to accompany herself on an ethereal "The Nearness of You," gently (and at times almost invisibly) framing her smoldering vocals.
Another highlight is Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," which Vaughan starts as a majestic and super-slow ballad. When the bossa nova pulse kicks in on the second chorus, it brings with it breathtaking vistas. Like all great music, this "Wave" offers nothing less than a new way of seeing the world. That one track is enough to take your breath away. And then along comes another perfect little miracle, and then another, until the show's over. That's when it hits you: This all happened on one night.
Released: 1974, Mainstream/Columbia
Key Tracks: "Wave," "Like Someone in Love," "My Funny Valentine."
Catalog Choice: Swingin' Easy; In the Land of Hi-Fi; Brazilian Romance
Next Stop: Shirley Horn: You Won't Forget Me
After That: Carmen McRae: Carmen Sings Monk
Book Page: 826