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Sarah Vaughan: Divine: The Jazz Albums 1954-1958

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Though both Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan were established stars by the 1940s wasn’t until a decade later that they truly came into their own as vocalists, establishing the respective sounds and styles that would define their iconic status. Under the strict supervision of Norman Granz, who built the Verve label around her, Fitzgerald remained strictly jazz-focused. For Vaughan at Mercury, primarily under the direction of producer Bob Shad, the agenda was broader. As documented in 1986 with the release of three hefty box sets that included all 273 tracks she recorded between 1954 and 1959, Mercury hedged its bets by marketing her as both a pop and jazz artist. So chart hits like “Make Yourself Comfortable” and the mega-selling “Broken-Hearted Melody” sit aside such dazzling jazz tracks as her seminal “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and scat-lined “How High the Moon” (which preceded Fitzgerald’s landmark Berlin version by five years).

The intent of this slimmer, chicer four-disc set is to isolate the 72 tracks that represent Vaughan’s work with either small jazz combos or jazz orchestras. First up is the 1953 EP Images which, when 12-inch LPs became the norm shortly thereafter, was expanded to the 12-track Swingin’ Easy (a 13th track, “Linger Awhile,” was added to CD reissues). Her “Can’t Take That Away” is the stellar centerpiece, but fine renditions of “Body and Soul,” “All of Me” and particularly “Pennies From Heaven” are near-equally stunning.

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