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Carla Bley and Steve Swallow, Duets (ECM-Watt 20). A record of such revealing intimacy that it almost makes up for the fruity musical mai-tais one of the jazz' greatest current composers has been serving up the past few years. This is a martini -- straight up, very dry. With Bley on piano, not organ, a few things are very clear: that she's primarily a composer, not a player, and that the music of Ellington, Monk and Weill is as strong as ever in her work. Ignore the two Steve Swallow tunes. For the rest, you get to hear the record of a first-rate jazz composer thinking out loud while supported by a first-rate bass player of rock steady pulse and formidable intelligence. Some of these tunes -- "Reactionary Tango" and "Utvikinssang"-- are by no means new but they're why Bley is as cherished by critics and fellow musicians as she is.
The Divine Sarah Vaughan: The Columbia Years (Columbia Mono C2-44165). The great jazz diva in all her youthful glory. There isn't much that's uptempo here ("Perdido" and "Ain't Misbehavin'" are just about it). And, yes, Percy Faith's name is attached to far too many of the arrangements but, my, oh my, what a voice -- as rich and dark and warmly enveloping a contralto as jazz is ever likely to hear with subtlety and musicianship to match. And to hear it -- on all-too-few tunes -- with the likes of Budd Johnson, Miles Davis and Tony Scott is to hear why she conquered the jazz world instantly and hasn't stopped conquering it since.

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