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Monday, January 9, 2012

Billie Holiday: Stay With Me


1) I Wished On The Moon; 2) Ain't Misbehavin' (I'm Savin' My Love For You); 3) Everything Happens To Me; 4) Say It Isn't So; 5) I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; 6) Always; 7) Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.

Apparently, the date of release is somewhat off: various sources conflict in placing Stay With Me either in 1958 or in 1959. But chronologically, this is where it belongs: all of the songs were recorded during one session, held by Billie on February 14, 1955, backed by Tony Scott and his Orchestra. On that particular date, the «Orchestra» happened to contain trumpeter Charlie Sha­vers, already a Billie regular; drummer Cozy Cole, whose talents and personality would later in­fluence a certain Colin Flooks to change his name to Cozy Powell; guitar player Billy Bauer, no­table for influential avantgarde work with sax player Lee Konitz; and other important musicians with important pedigrees. Not counting Tony Scott himself and his near-unique way of playing the clarinet (to post-electronic ears, it may sound like he's using a MIDI interface!).

In short, lots of second-tier talent assembled to record a fairly mediocre record. All of the tunes are generic oldies, most of them already covered by Billie up to several times, and she herself certainly was not in a good enough form to match the lighthearted gaiety of all this Broadway glitz. Her voice keeps cracking, sometimes even in important spots, and its worn-off character gives the whole affair a nostalgic sheen — from now on, you can feel that Billie is getting «out of time». Not that there wasn't still a huge audience out there for soft lounge vocal jazz, but this was, after all, the beginning of the rock'n'roll era, and Billie's ever-worsening health problems could hardly benefit her in these times of tough competition.

Still, taken entirely on its own, the session is not at all worthless. In a way, it is a return to the good old Columbia days: Billie is just playing the role of «yet another instrument» in a band set­ting. On most of the tracks, she takes the lead at the beginning, then cedes her spot to the soloists, then returns at the end — this is why the tracks start getting bulkier, up to nearly seven minutes on 'I Wished On The Moon'. And, given her condition (and also the fact that nobody at this point would give a fig about hearing those actual songs one more time), this is just the right way to go about it. There's plenty of tasteful guitar soloing from Bauer, and fine, exquisite parts from Sha­vers, and, as I already said, those odd, atmospheric, in a way, almost «psychedelic» clarinet exer­cises from Tony Scott himself. Check out 'I Wished On The Moon' and, particularly, 'Everything Happens To Me' — the playing is as diverse and soulful as it gets on such things.

It may sound sad that, for the first time ever, Billie's backing band may be pulling the attention away from her, but, technically speaking, they save the record, wrestling it out a thumbs up at the last moment, so to speak. That said, the faster-paced numbers, such as 'Always' and 'I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm', are still unsatisfactory — at this time, Billie is already unable to convincingly communicate lighthearted joy as she was in the 1930s. As far as I'm concerned, she should have stuck exclusively to darker stuff — but then again, they might think too much mo­roseness would damage sales, since, anyway, most record-buyers couldn't tell genuine joy from si­mulated joy even if each record bore a sticker saying "WARNING: ALL HAPPINESS ON THIS ALBUM MANUFACTURED FROM ARTIFICIAL MATERIALS. NO GUARANTEES."

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