Originally posted on April 29, 2008
Billie Holliday was surely one of the greatest artists jazz has known. In a career spanning the ‘30s to the late ‘50s, she gave the world some exceptional music. I suspect most if not all the readers of this blog know that. ESP records has compiled a 5-CD set of her live recordings, radio and TV appearances and soundtrack spotlights and there’s a whole heck of a bunch of music. I am not always a fan of her very late work. She can be really on top of things, but she can also sound unhealthy and slightly uninspired. This set doesn’t do anything to change my mind there. Some of the cuts do not do her justice—and some transcend that time period to be terrific.
The first three disks or so, however, really show off her abilities. Beginning with the soundtrack to a Duke Ellington short in the thirties, she handles the lyric and musical content of every song with absolute command and stylistic genius. There are a number of versions of some of her most popular songs as the set covers a chronological survey. That can be fascinating from a comparative point of view. It also means that after repeated hearings one may want to pick and choose cuts rather than blast through all five CDs at a shot. I am glad ESP came out with this set. It compliments her studio sessions and gives you a really well rounded look at her career.