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From “Sassy” to “The Matriarch of the Blues” and Beyond: PopMarket Offers New Complete Box Sets in August

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Though it may be summer vacation for many of us, the folks at Sony’s PopMarket have been too busy to take much of a rest!  They’ll be releasing three more Complete Albums boxes from a triumvirate of artists who blurred the lines between jazz, R&B, pop and rock.  Box sets for The Brecker Brothers, Etta James and Sarah Vaughan will arrive at general retail as well as at on August 28.

Though most genres have been benefitted from the comprehensive Complete Albums series, jazz fans have been particularly lucky.  These three latest titles follow up the first 19 box sets in the series, and a cursory glance at that list reveals some of the most enduring names not only in jazz but in popular music: The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Stanley Clarke, Miles Davis (2009), George Duke, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Billie Holiday, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Return To Forever, Woody Shaw, Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington Jr., Weather Report 1971-1975 and Weather Report 1976-1982 (all on Columbia/Legacy); and Paul Desmond and Nina Simone (on RCA/Legacy).

For those not familiar with the Complete Albums series, the compact boxes contain every album released during a particular period of an artist’s career.  Each CD is packaged in a mini-LP sleeve replicating the original album’s front and back artwork, and many of the albums include bonus tracks.  Bonus discs have also been included in a number of the sets.  Booklets always contain discographical annotation and often contain new essays penned specifically for these sets.

The Brecker Brothers’ Complete Arista Albums Collection offers eight albums released between 1975 and 1981 from the duo of Randy Brecker (trumpet, b. 1945) and Michael Brecker (tenor saxophone, 1949-2007) on Clive Davis’ legendary label.  None of the albums in this set have ever appeared on CD in the U.S. before, making its release a particularly monumental one.  The Brecker Brothers have made their mark both individually and collectively with countless appearances on some of the best records of the day, from artists including Blood, Sweat and Tears, Paul Simon, Todd Rundgren, Rupert Holmes, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra and Frank Zappa.

But they’re still much-loved for their Arista output as headline artists, during which time they crossed genre lines from jazz to funk to rock and back again.  At Arista, Michael and Randy were joined by an array of familiar musicians with equally-impressive credentials including guitarists Bob Mann, Steve Khan, Barry Finnerty, David Spinozza, and Hiram Bullock; bassists Will Lee, Neil Jason, Marcus Miller, and Tony Levin; keyboardist Don Grolnick; and drummers Harvey Mason, Chris Parker, Steve Gadd, and Steve Jordan.  George Duke and Luther Vandross also made vital contributions.  These albums showcase the Brothers’ winning combination of pop melodies, pure jazz improvisation and memorable compositions, as well as a mastery of the musical forms of the day likely honed during their time as ace session men.  Though the Brecker Brothers broke up in 1982, they reunited in the early part of the next decade as both touring and recording artists.  Randy Brecker contributes new liner notes to the box set.

We explore the sets for Etta James and Sarah Vaughan after the jump!

When Etta James (1938-2012) signed with Private Music in 1994, the 56-year old artist had already packed in a number of musical lifetimes.  Her place in the musical firmament would have been established by her remarkable 16-year run (1960-1976) at Chess Records alone.  At Chess, James placed two dozen charting singles including the immortal 1961 “At Last.”  Throughout, James battled crippling drug addiction, but she kept her demons in check to continue recording prolifically for labels including Atlantic, Elektra, Island and Fantasy.  By the time of her Private Music deal, James was a recognized legend of blues, R&B and jazz, and felt free at the label to explore the various sides of her musical persona.  The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock ‘n’ Soul Albums Collection focuses only on the blues/rock side of her Private recordings; a future box is planned to compile the more explicitly jazz-oriented LPs.

James reached a pinnacle of acclaim during this fertile, creative period.  She won two Grammy Awards for albums contained in the new set, 2003’s Let’s Roll (Best Contemporary Blues Album) and 2004’s Blues to the Bone (Best Traditional Blues Album).  1995’s Mystery Lady: The Songs of Billie Holiday (likely being saved for that second Private box) netted James her first Grammy after nine nominations dating back to 1961!  On the albums contained here, however, the soulful chanteuse brought her passionate signature to songs by bluesmen (Willie Dixon, Albert King), rockers (Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones) and R&B heroes (Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Otis Redding).  She had always evinced impeccable taste in song selection, having recorded material over the years from the likes of Duke Ellington, Randy Newman, Allen Toussaint, Don Covay, Jerry Ragovoy, and so many more.

Producer and disc jockey Bob Porter offers new liner notes shedding light into the life and career of the woman born Jamesetta Hawkins.  The 7-CD box includes 1994’s Live from San Francisco as a bonus disc; it was originally recorded in 1981 but not released on Private Music until 1994.

Lastly, a Complete Albums box is dedicated another pioneering woman of jazz.   Newark, New Jersey’s own Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990) recorded her first album in 1944, an early recipient of the patronage of Billy Eckstine and Earl “Fatha” Hines.   Nicknamed “Sassy,” Vaughan accepted Eckstine’s invitation to join his band, although the association was short-lived as she was sought out for solo recording.  That solo career began in 1945, and she came to Columbia Records in 1949.  While at Columbia, Vaughan recorded with Miles Davis and Benny Green, although she felt steered in a commercial direction as opposed to a pure jazz one.  By 1953, she had departed for Mercury, where she was given the leeway to record distinct albums in both the pop and jazz veins; she remained at Mercury until 1967, save for three years at Roulette between 1960 and 1963. Vaughan’s material at Columbia was compiled into two long-playing records in 1955, both of which are included in the new box set, The Complete Columbia Albums CollectionAfter Hours with Sarah Vaughan has never been on CD, and has been expanded here with four bonus tracks.  Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi has nine added tracks unearthed for the 1996 CD reissue.

Records for Mainstream, Atlantic and Pablo followed, and in the interim, Vaughan acquired a new signature song, Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” from his 1973 musical A Little Night Music.  Vaughan returned twice to Columbia-affiliated labels for special projects, both of which are also on this 4-CD box set.  1982’s Gershwin Live! teamed Vaughan with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas,  Vaughan and Thomas had first worked together in 1974, also on a Gershwin program; the 1982 LP netted her a Grammy Award.  The remainder of Vaughan’s work in the 1980s was sporadic, including guest appearances on Barry Manilow’s 2:00 A.M. Paradise Café alongside other jazz greats like Gerry Mulligan and Mel Tormé, and as Bloody Mary on a Sony Masterworks studio cast recording of South Pacific.

Sassy’s final, complete LP under her own name, Brazilian Romance, marked her return to the Columbia label proper in 1987.  Sergio Mendes produced this tribute to the music of Brazil, and primarily the songs of Milton Nascimento (who joined her on vocals) and guitarist-arranger Dori Caymmi.  Vaughan was joined by legendary players like Hubert Laws and Ernie Watts.  Mendes himself contributed “So Many Stars,” written with Alan and Marilyn Bergman.  Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal columnist and writer of books including the invaluable Sinatra! The Song is You, supplies new liner notes for the box set.

All four titles can be ordered at the Amazon links below or at, and are due for release on August 28!

The Brecker Brothers, The Complete Arista Albums Collection (Arista/Legacy, 2012)

  1. The Brecker Brothers (Arista AL 4037, 1975)
  2. Back to Back (Arista AL 4061, 1976)
  3. Don’t Stop the Music (Arista AL 4122, 1977)
  4. Heavy Metal Be-Bop (Arista AB 4185, 1978)
  5. Detente (Arista AB 4272, 1980)
  6. Straphangin’ (Arista AL 9550, 1981)
  7. Blue Montreux (Arista AB 4224, 1979)
  8. Blue Montreux II (Arista AB 4245, 1979)

Etta James, The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock ‘n’ Soul Albums Collection (RCA Victor/Legacy, 2012)

  1. Love’s Been Rough On Me (Private Music, 1997)
  2. Life, Love And The Blues (Private Music, 1998)
  3. Matriarch Of The Blues (Private Music, 2000)
  4. Burnin’ Down The House (Private Music, 2002)
  5. Let’s Roll (Private Music, 2003)
  6. Blues To The Bone (RCA Victor, 2004)
  7. Live From San Francisco (On The Spot/Private Music, recorded 1981, released 1994)

Sarah Vaughan, The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy, 2012)

  1. After Hours With Sarah Vaughan (Columbia, 1955)
  2. Sarah Vaughan In Hi-Fi (Columbia, 1955)
  3. Michael Tilson Thomas / Sarah Vaughan, Gershwin Live! (Sony Classical, 1982)
  4. Brazilian Romance (Columbia, 1987)

Written by Joe Marchese

July 13, 2012 at 13:38

5 Responses

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  1. I have several of these “Complete Albums” sets: Brubeck, Cheap Trick, Leonard Cohen (the UK version with just his studio albums), Billy Joel and Earth, Wind & Fire. Although it’s great to have the LP replica sleeves and all of the CDs in one place for a reasonable price, potential buyers should be aware that there are no inner sleeves (except in the Joel set). Actually, the Joel set is significantly more impressive than the others in that they reproduced all of the original packaging elements and included two thick booklets (one with complete lyrics and one with an interview & photos). Even the box itself is sturdier than the others. For the prices they’re charging, though, it’s hard to complain about these collections.

    As far as these upcoming releases, the Brecker Bros. set is calling my name. Hopefully one day the Blue Oyster Cult catalog gets a “Complete Albums” box set. Fingers crossed.

    Thanks for the info, Joe.

  2. This is great, I love the Breckers, met them in an airport van in New Orleans in the 1980’s

    Imagery Photography

    July 13, 2012 at 14:18

  3. Calling Sarah Vaughan’s set “Complete Columbia Albums” leaves some questions, as most of Sarah’s Columbia recordings were singles (78 or 45), and the few LPs were primarily compilations of singles. The LPs or CDs from Columbia/SONY covered only a fraction of Sarah’s complete Columbia recordings, and the masterings were terrible, especially for the original LP editions.

    It would be great if the Sarah set had the complete Columbia recordings, all of it, in sound that was close to the original 78’s


    July 13, 2012 at 15:47

    • From the boxlist above it looks like this will be yet another re-mash, and leave out the majority of her original Columbia singles. I didn’t count the two late-career albums in my comments above, as they were licensed to Columbia, in the years when Sarah changed labels every year or so.


      July 13, 2012 at 15:50

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