BILLIE HOLIDAY: BILLIE HOLIDAY SINGS (1952)
1) East Of The Sun; 2) Blue Moon; 3) You Go To My Head; 4) You Turned The Tables On Me; 5) Easy To Love; 6) These Foolish Things; 7) I Only Have Eyes For You; 8) Solitude; 9) Everything I Have Is Yours; 10) Love For Sale; 11) Moonglow; 12) Tenderly.
This and almost all of the following LPs that were released for Billie in the 1950s (with the exception of the final small bunch for Columbia) are all available in one package on the monumental Complete Billie Holiday On Verve package. However, I would not dare write about it in one single sweep. It covers an evolutionary period that is way too long for one single review: starting off with Billie still in perfect form, at the top of her vocal and emotional powers, and ending with a wreck of a woman, although still perversely fascinating. I would also not recommend forking a hundred bucks over for the package unless you are a history buff — there are too many alternate takes, too many crappy lo-fi session recordings and pure banter.
Another reason for splitting this monolith monster is that, in the 1950s, the concept of an LP was already fully fleshed out, and much, if not most, of Billie's recording output was originally put out by Clef Records (later to be absorbed in Verve) as LPs. Not that there was anything «conceptual» about it, except in a couple of cases, but, for the most part, the records did correlate with specific mini-sessions and a certain chronology of events. This first one, for instance, was recorded in its entirety on March 26, 1952, and released as Billie Holiday Sings with eight tracks, then, four years later, re-released under the title Solitude, with four additional tracks from the same sessions. And, with none other than the legendary Oscar Peterson himself manning the piano, the results were bound to be quite individualistic.
Neither this, nor any of the following reviews could be long. Most of the material that Billie recorded with Clef (Verve) was either re-recordings of earlier stuff, or similar compositions from the Songbook: all that matters is Billie's own state at the time and degree of dedication to the material, and, sometimes, the accompaniment. Here, with Peterson at the helm, we get a moody, quiet, nocturnal set for a half hour of melancholic relaxation: sometimes with a lighter punch ('Blue Moon'), sometimes with a darker one ('Love For Sale'). The production is unexpectedly echoey, almost as if you were listening to Billie standing in a vast hallway — a little strange, considering that the voice, in early 1952, is still as impeccable as ever.
The obvious highlight for me is 'Solitude', particularly when compared with the earlier Decca version — overloaded with strings that obscured the singer. Here, even despite the confusing echo, the song finally matches its title (although it might have worked even better as a minimalistic duet between Billie and Oscar, without the accompanying trumpet). But, as is almost always the case, there are really no lowlights — here be a must-have for all lovers of «penthouse jazz». Plus, arguably, the best version of 'These Foolish Things' she ever did.