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Monday, February 6, 2012

Billie Holiday: Body And Soul


BILLIE HOLIDAY: BODY AND SOUL (1957)

1) Body And Soul; 2) They Can't Take That Away From Me; 3) Darn That Dream; 4) Let's Call The Whole Thing Off; 5) Comes Love; 6) Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You?; 7) Embraceable You; 8) Moonlight In Vermont.

Billie's last recording sessions for Verve, former Clef, were held in January 1957 and yielded enough new material for three albums, but, unfortunately, not enough for even one properly auto­nomous review. They simply continue the trend of Music For Torching and Velvet Mood, with another batch of re-recordings of old Columbia and Commodore day cuts, mixed with barrel-scra­ping as the lady and her backing crew keep searching for Tin Pan Alley material that has, so far, managed to avoid the Holiday touch.

And, just as before, the effect of these songs depends on whether Billie and the band decide to cast them in their original «playful» mood, or reinterpret them in a darker and more personal-intimate vein. Thus, 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off' with its dialectal humor works poorly; 'Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You?', with its slower tempo and bluesy atmosphere, works better, but is still cast in a «light entertainment for gentlemen with big purses» manner. But 'Comes Love', pin­ned to an ominous opening electric guitar riff from Barney Kessel and punctuated by Harry Edi­son's equally ominous trumpet lines, works achingly well — they almost manage to turn it into some sort of somber German cabaret-style vaudeville number à la Marlene Dietrich (only with a less mannequinnish singer), a style not entirely familiar to Billie up to this point.

Other highlights include the title track and 'Embraceable You', both expanded to twice the run­ning length of the original versions, not so much by the instrumental interludes (Barney Kessel does get a nice moody guitar solo in addition to all the trumpets and saxes), as they are by drastic slowing down of tempos — the slower it gets, the more thin nuances can be squeezed in­side the vocalization of each single syllable.

That said, it does seem a little nagging that, as late as 1957, Billie was so stubbornly clinging to the same formula. No one would ask her to sing Chuck Berry, of course, but jazz and pop sen­si­bi­li­ties, by the late 1950s, had evolved way beyond pre-War Tin Pan Alley. Her early recordings for Verve could, from a certain point of view, still be considered mildly «hip», but these ones al­most could be accused of «lazy conservatism» — now that the lady's status as a living legend was codified, she could be covering the entire works of Ira Gershwin and Rodgers & Hammerstein in chronological (or alphabetical) order and there would still be a market for this.

On the other hand, let's face it — Billie Holiday is one of the very few reasons that the entire works of Rodgers & Hammerstein still have to be remembered fondly; and in 1957, there could be no better frontperson for the Tin Pan Alley mindset than Billie. Which makes this strong igno­rance of the changing times all the more intriguing — «unyielding old guard», etc. (In reality, though, it would be stupid to expect Billie to «modernize» her setlists: the idea that an artist must constantly «progress» in order to retain credibility did not yet exist in the 1950s).

2 comments:

  1. So where is your thumb pointing? Or, given that you said that these 3 albums don't merit an autonomous review you are doing a 3-part single one?

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    Replies
    1. Sometimes even thumb pointing, let alone detailed ratings, does not make much sense.

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