Michael Tilson Thomas / Sarah Vaughan

Gershwin Live!

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Sassy and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas had been cooking up Gershwin evenings for eight years prior to this live performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, so singer and conductor had this act together for a long time. Judging from Leslie Gourse's biography Sassy, Tilson Thomas apparently worshiped Vaughan and let her have totally free rein in their collaborations. As a result, this is a swooning, swooping, hooting, heavily vibrating diva trip, one of the most overindulgent recordings Sassy ever made. Of course, her vocal instrument and the freedom in which she manipulated it are things of wonder, and you can't help digging the virtuosic scatting display on "The Man I Love." But as a matter of taste, the vocal acrobatics here -- aided and abetted by Tilson Thomas' loving conducting of Marty Paich's ultra-plush charts -- often stretch Gershwin's tunes grotesquely out of shape. Many of the tunes are gathered into four run-on medleys; others ("Sweet and Low Down," "Do It Again") are performed on their own with just Tilson Thomas' enthusiastic, classical-styled, non-swinging piano accompaniment. Vaughan's trio (George Gaffney, piano; Andy Simpkins, bass; Harold Jones, drums) is basically along for the ride. As an example of Sassy in front of a symphony orchestra in her last decade, this is an all-too-accurate document of what went on at many of those lovefests, for better and worse.

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