Various Artists

Ultimate Diva Collection: The Diva Series

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Verve's Ultimate Diva Collection: The Diva Series rounds up tracks by 16 of the singers who have recorded for the label (or one of the labels the Verve Group now distributes) at some point in their career. The line-up reads like a who's who of vocal jazz: legends like Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee and Carmen McRae rub shoulders with less-acclaimed yet still diva- worthy singers like Ernestine Anderson, Blossom Dearie, and the always fabulous Shirley Horn. Throw in a few wild cards like Etta James and Astrud Gilberto, and the results become nearly definitive. There are a plethora of classic songs from the '50s and '60s (and '90s in Shirley Horn's case) here too. Ella Fitzgerald's "How High the Moon," Sarah Vaughan's "Lullaby of Birdland," Helen Merrill's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," and Billie Holiday's "Body and Soul" are just a few of the best. Except for the questionable inclusion of Natalie Cole's 2001 recording of "It's Crazy," every song here is a vocal jazz classic. Of course all this classicism wouldn't mean much if the artists and songs were just thrown together haphazardly, but Verve has done a fine job of constructing a collection that flows like a cool, clean stream, and can easily be recommended to anyone looking for a swinging introduction to jazz vocals. Fans of the genre will find it quite worthwhile as well.

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