If you want to know why I’m down on so many modern female vocalists (as well as trumpet players and musicians in general), just give a listen to the music on this heavenly 3 cd set. A few years ago Verve reissued trumpet legend Clifford Brown’s instrumental sounds, and they’ve now completed the equation with this life affirming collection of his trio of vocal collaborations. The music is nothing less than essential for anyone even remotely interested in not only vocal music, but the rise and downfall of Western Civilization.
Brown’s session with Dinah Washington is more of a jam session, recorded in an LA concert before an enthusiastic crowd. Brown’s classic band of Richie Powell/p, George Morrow/b, Harold Land/ts and Max Roach/dr is supplemented with Clark Terry/tp, Herb Geller/as and Maynard Ferguson/tp on some rousing tunes like “Lover Come Back to Me” (which has Ms Washington at her exciting best, almost sounding like a 4th trumpet at times) and she bars no holds on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” or the agonizing “Darn That Dream.” The horn players all get a chance to stretch out on burning material like “Move” and a pair of medleys that include Maynard Ferguson on a jaw dropping “Summertime.” Geller’s alto on “Bess You Is My Woman,” and Brown on “It Might As Well Be Spring” will remind you why you fell in love with jazz in the first place. If music gets better than this, please let me know.
Well, music actually just did get better, with the desert island pick of Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughan melding together to deliver definitive renditions of songs like “Lullaby in Birdland” and “He’s My Guy.” The team of Brown with Herbie Mann/fl, Paul Quinichette/ts, Joe Benjamin/b, Roy Haynes/dr and Jimmy Jones/p swing with delightful subtlety, cooling wisping through “April in Paris” and “I’m Glad There Is You” with a elan that can only come from NOT going to music conservatories. Brown’s horn is warm and glows like embers, while Quinichette’s tenor is soft and breathy. This is how horns are supposed to sound, yet the highlight of “Embraceble You” has Vaughn’s patently romantic vibrato cooing just with the empathetic rhythm section. Vaughn swoons the entire session like pelican over the gentle waves.
The last of the mid 50s sessions has Brown with Helen Merrill and a hip rhythm team arranged by Quincy Jones and accompanied by Danny Bank on flute and bari sax. Merrill probably had the most obscure career of the three, but this debut disc by the singer is an overlooked knockout. She’s got that classic “vo-cool” sound that was the thing back then, and yet her renditions of “Born to Be Blue” and “Yesterdays” are added with a dash of agony and pathos that belied the smooth style. Her undestately rhythmic timing on “Falling in Love With Love,” is irresistable, while her treatments of ballads like “What’s New” focuses on the porcelain fragility of her tone which draws you into the words. The band sounds relaxed and is flexible and Brown’s lyrical, concise and clean solos throughout make this session an underappreciated diamond.
The thing that is most remarkable about this 3 cd package is that you get to experience three completely different vocal approaches to jazz. From Vaughan’s husky and almost classical sounding swoons to Washington’s earthy sass, and then closing with Merrill’s iced emotionalism, you get a trio of women with distinct ways of approaching a song. This is exactly what’s missing in today’s singers-a sense of a personal and individual approach to a composition. As for Clifford Brown, it would take more than just one review here to explain what deficiency in modern music HE points out. Bottom line-get this and LIVE!