Various Artists

Jazz Ladies, Vol. 2

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For whatever reason, Fantasy never released Jazz Ladies, Vol. 2 in the United States; this two-CD set only came out in Germany, where it was distributed by XYZ Music. But non-German jazz enthusiasts would do well to search the import bins for this compilation, which takes a generally enjoyable look at female jazz singers. Fantasy, of course, owns a jazz gold mine; the jazz-oriented (or least jazz-friendly) labels that Fantasy has acquired over the years include Prestige, Contemporary, Milestone, Pablo, and Riverside (among others). So Fantasy had plenty to choose from, and this double CD (which spans 1955-1998) contains decent or excellent performances by major vocalists like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Ruth Brown, Chris Connor, and Brazilian singer Ithamara Koorax. But half the fun is checking out some of the lesser-known, more obscure vocalists, who include Honi Gordon, Helyne Stewart, Bev Kelly, and Billie Poole. None of those artists enjoyed the commercial success they should have, and all of them are proof that talented people can indeed fall through the cracks. Ironically, the weakest selections are by Anita O'Day, who was 73 when she recorded "Rules of the Road" and "Shaking the Blues Away" in 1993. O'Day was a goddess when she was in her prime; her classic '40s output greatly influenced Chris Connor, June Christy, and Helen Merrill. But in 1993, O'Day was way past her prime -- she had no voice left (much like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday when they made their final recordings). Nonetheless, Jazz Ladies, Vol. 2 has a lot more hits than misses -- all things considered, the double CD is worth searching for if you're a serious connoisseur of female jazz singers.

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