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Monday, December 19, 2011

Billie Holiday: An Evening With Billie Holiday


1) Stormy Weather; 2) Lover Come Back To Me; 3) My Man; 4) He's Funny That Way; 5) Yesterdays; 6) Tenderly; 7) I Can't Face The Music; 8) Remember.

Billie's second LP for Clef/Verve contains the results of two further sessions from 1952; one from April 1, with more or less the same backing band as on Billie Holiday Sings, one from July 27, with several changes (different brass section, and Freddie Green replacing Barney Kessel on gui­tar), but still musically dominated by Oscar Peterson's piano, so that only serious jazz connois­seurs will be able to tell the difference.

The material is once again evenly spread between re-recordings of older numbers and introduc­tion of new ones. Of the new songs, 'Stormy Weather' is the acknowledged highlight; it is one of the very few Billie tunes that she opens herself, with a few accappella notes, immedi­ately placing the emphasis on vocals and nothing but vocals, transforming Ethel Waters' original croon-fest in­to something ten times as intimate, genuine, and artistically unconventional — not that there'd be anything surprising about the procedure as late as 1952.

Of the re-recordings, 'Lover, Come Back To Me' is taken at about twice the tempo of the original Commodore recording, but keeping the brass in the background and Peterson's piano in the fore­ground still avoids turning the song into an entertaining rave-up à la Columbia years — the al­bum was supposed to be as stylistically uniform and mood-setting as its predecessor, so the fast tempo adds diversity without breaking up the vibe. 'Yesterdays' is a stylistic improvement over the Commodore version, with Peterson switching to electric organ (probably the first time ever on a Billie record), and the fast swinging section of the second half sharper and more pronounced.

On the other hand, re-recordings of 'My Man' and 'He's Funny That Way' are somewhat super­fluous. But that's the way it goes with The Songbook — every time you switch to a different re­cord label, you are supposed to redo it all over again (provided you are an accomplished, well-selling artist). After all, why should Columbia and Commodore profit from a 'He's Funny That Way' by B. Holiday, when her current contract is with Verve? Come to think of it, it is a miracle that the lady still managed to sound so convincing and authentic on each of these re-recordings, geared primarily towards cash flow. That's some really great love out there for material which, per se, was mostly mediocre to begin with.

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