We continue the Rifftides survey of the second release of Jazz Icons DVDs. For earlier reviews of the Mingus and Ellington discs, go here.
In addition to their first-rate musical material and high production values, the Jazz Icons discs–unlike far too many DVDS–provide background about the music and the artists. Each includes a booklet with discographical information, photographs, and program notes by knowledgable experts. Patricia Willard wrote essays for the Ellington disc and for the Sarah Vaughan.
Sarah Vaughan Live In ’58 & ’64 (Jazz Icons)
In her 1958 appearances in Sweden and Holland, the singer was in her mid-thirties, a seasoned performer but still shy before audiences and cameras. The girlish reticence that was part of her persona and her charm is on the film that went into this DVD, and so is bewitching singing from an extraordinary time in her career. Vaughan’s discography of the late fifties is rich with gems, including the first recording of “Misty,” her live date at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago and her initial dates with Quincy Jones and members of the Count Basie band. Much of the cream of that repertoire is represented here, including “Lover Man,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “Mean To Me” a sublime “Over The Rainbow” and a supremely relaxed up-tempo “Cherokee.” She was in perfect voice–she was nearly always in perfect voice–with few of the mannerisms that crept in later. With perfect time, intonation and taste, she is hand-in-glove with her trio, pianist Ronell Bright, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Art Morgan.
By 1964 in Sweden, there were hints of grand operatic tendencies, but not to the extent that sometimes took the edge off Vaughan’s later work. She was more elaborately gowned and coifed and had developed a polished stage presence. Vaughan had updated her repertoire with Bernstein’s “I Feel Pretty” and “Maria” from West Side Story and with “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” but the highlights of the set are a joyous “I Got Rhythm” with finger-snap accompaniment, and a definitive slow performance of “The More I See You.” Her trio is pianist Kirk Stuart, drummer George Hughes and the young Buster Williams on bass.
Dave Brubeck Live In ’64 & ’66 (Jazz Icons). Full disclosure: I wrote the foreword to Darius Brubeck’s notes for this DVD of a pair of European concerts by the classic Brubeck Quartet. Here is the first part:
Aside from its music, which is among the best I have heard in hundreds of hours of listening to the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet, this DVD explains an essential element of the band’s huge success. Concert audiences made the Brubeck group a phenomenon, at first on college campuses, then in the world at large. Listeners in concert halls and clubs could see the esteem and fondness Brubeck, Desmond, Wright and Morello had for one another.
Without a trace of artifice or overt showmanship, the four displayed the enjoyment they got from playing together. It was infectious. People who may not have known a quarter note from a mouthpiece were captivated as they shared in the quartet’s naturalness with the creative process.
The concerts in Belgium and Germany capture that naturalness, with the quartet at or near a peak of performance. In “St. Louis Blues,” which they must have played a thousand times, Joe Morello and Gene Wright lock up in a way justifying Wright’s claim that their togetherness was “like Jo Jones and Walter Page with Count Basie.” In a delicious video moment, the alert director switches to a shot that captures the camaraderie of the bassist and drummer who called one another, “Section.” There are two versions of “Koto Song.” Both have remarkable minor blues solos by Paul Desmond. Brubeck is at his most ethereal and impressionistic in the one before a German audience.
The two “Take Fives,” are relaxed and flowing. Morello, who introduced 5/4 time to the quartet in the late fifties, creates a structurally perfect piece of musical architecture in the ’64 performance in Belgium. The concerts also include “Three to Get Ready,” “I’m In A Dancing Mood,” “In Your Own Sweet Way,” “Forty Days” and “Take The ‘A’ Train.” In both cases, the simplicity of the stage settings and the direction imparts a timeless quality to the look of the video. Sound quality is more than acceptable. This is the best Brubeck on DVD.
Coming up: The Wes Montgomery, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane Jazz Icons DVDs.