Along with his album with Count Basie (Basie and Zoot) during the same period, this is one of Sims' most exciting recordings of his career. Greatly assisted by pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Joe Pass, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Grady Tate, he explores ten songs written by George and Ira Gershwin. Somehow the magic was definitely present and, whether it be stomps such as "The Man I Love," "Lady Be Good," and "I Got Rhythm" or warm ballads (including "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Embraceable You"), Zoot Sims is heard at the peak of his powers. A true gem.
Norman Granz's idea to match Zoot Sims' lyrical, swinging tenor sax with Johnny Mandel's equally arresting compositions was a masterful one. Sims' tart, alternately lush and furious solos were wonderfully spotlighted on such tunes as "Cinnamon and Cloves," "Emily" and "Zoot." The six-tune session, recently issued on CD, also contains effective piano solos from Mike Wofford. The date's tour-de-force was its final selection, the wonderful "Low Life," which Sims probed, illuminated and ultimately redefined via his solo.
Although Sarah Vaughan gets top billing on this set, she takes vocals on just two of the ten songs. Four different groupings of Pablo's All-Star musicians are heard from during a tribute to Duke Ellington, and there are many strong moments. Guitarist Joe Pass, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Mickey Roker make for a potent quartet on three songs; flugelhornist Clark Terry heads a quintet; Zoot Sims is featured on his lyrical soprano during memorable versions of "Rockin' in Rhythm" and the beautiful "Tonight I Shall Sleep"; and Sassy (backed by just pianist Mike Wofford and guitarist Joe Pass) comes up with fresh interpretations of "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues" and "Everything But You." This is a well-rounded and enjoyable set with plenty of variety.