BILLIE HOLIDAY: BILLIE HOLIDAY (1954)
1) Love For Sale; 2) Moonglow; 3) Everything I Have Is Yours; 4) If The Moon Turns Green; 5) Autumn In New York; 6) How Deep Is The Ocean; 7) What A Little Moonlight Can Do; 8) I Cried For You.
This unconspicuously titled album from 1954 is mainly notable for containing tracks from two recording sessions that were quite distant chronologically. The first five songs were recorded in April 1952 (the same one that yielded much of the material for An Evening); the last three — exactly two years later. The backing band is very much the same: Oscar Peterson mans the piano in both cases, Ray Brown is on bass and Charlie Shavers on trumpet. (Herb Ellis replaces Barney Kessel on guitar, but neither is particularly noticeable).
What is, however, unmistakably different is Billie herself. The 1952 sessions have already been talked about before; here, of particular note is the exquisite lonesome-melancholic rendition of 'Autumn In New York' (comparing this to the syrupy lounge version of Sarah Vaughan, among others, reveals the utter triumph of simple intelligence and humane vulnerability over gloss and operatic technique), although, as usual, all the other performances are first-rate as well.
The last three songs, however, feature Billie's voice in the initial phases of decline – losing some of her frequencies (never all that abundant to begin with) and beginning to acquire that unmistakable «old lady rasp» that she managed to be saddled with without actually turning into an old lady, due to substance abuse. It is only the beginning, though; here, the main effect is simply that the singing gets lower and «deeper». It is unclear if they put Shavers' trumpet on top of everything in order to «mask» that weakness — probably just a coincidence. But that's how it is.
In any case, the fast, playful versions of 'What A Little Moonlight Can Do' and 'I Cried For You' are still excellent, and the album as a whole has no lowlights, despite the incoherence of its two parts. Recommendable, if only for the beautiful 'Autumn In New York'.