SARAH VAUGHAN, who could probably sing the Congressional Record and make people want an encore, brings her exquisite gift to a new songwriter on "Let It Live." The name Karol Wojtyla may not have the resonance of Irving Berlin or Rodgers and Hart, but the young Pole was an actor and poet before he became Pope John Paul II.
"Let It Live!" is based on a series of poems Wojtyla wrote under a pseudonym as a young priest. That's almost as intriguing as the process that led them to vinyl: The poems were translated into Italian several years back and set to music by Milanese composers Tito Fontana and Sante Palumbo. In an effort to reach a wider audience, Canadian lyricist Gene Lees was asked to provide English translations. Belgian Francy Boland provided new arrangements; Argentine Lalo Schifrin conducted an all-star European orchestra.
Vaughan sings half a dozen Wojtyla numbers as well as Schifrin's title song, a plea for world peace and understanding, and a Lees original, "The Mystery of Man," which recurs throughout the record as a framing device, turning disparate songs into a cycle. Among the direct, heart-felt songs, all in free verse: "The Actor," reflecting the conflict between assumed characters and self-identity; "A Girl Disappointed in Love" ("I think it's time you knew / the center isn't you / And the one who truly is / not even He is sure of love"); and "The Armaments Worker," a treatise on responsibility. Other titles include "The Madeleine," "The Children" and "The Black."
The long melodic lines reflect the original Italian lyrics but Vaughan moves through them with familiar grace, swinging them when it's appropriate, at other times reflecting somberly. As always, she invests the lyrics with tremendous sensitivity, conveying Wojtyla's message of peace, love and understanding with the consummate skill it deserves.
SARAH VAUGHAN -- "The Planet Is Alive: Let It Live!" (Jazzletter JLR1). Available by mail order only from Box 240, Okai CA 93023 for $12.75); Vaughan performs Friday through Sunday at Blues Alley.