Apr 9, 2015
The hoopla surrounding Billie Holiday’s Birthday Centennial gives us the change to have some musicians of differing styles, fame and sexes release tribute CDs to Lady Day, each one interesting and highly listenable in its own right.
Jose James' third CD for Blue Note is entitled Yesterday I Had The Blues - The Music Of Billie Holiday, and it follows the sound he laid down so well in his debut CD a few years back. James comes across primarily as silky-smooth blues singer, and he covers tunes like “Fine and Mellow” and “Lover Man” with a strong blues approach. Tunes like “God Bless the Child”, his band, which includes Eric Harland (drums), Jason Moran (piano) and especially John Patituci (bass), come across particularly well. “Strange Fruit” is given a near-acapella performance, taking the famous song to church with great effect.
Pianist Lara Downes doesn’t usually move in jazz circles, but her solo piano work A Billie Holiday Songbook suggests that she might want to do so more often. If at times her performances are a bit too respectful, at other times – most notably on up-tempo tunes like “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” or “Them There Eyes” – she brings some down-home style to the material. Her classical chops make the ballads shimmer, with her version of Marian McPartland’s arrangement of “Willow Weep for Me” especially poignant.
Cassandra Wilson brings her seemingly boundless imagination and vocal dexterity.to any project she takes on, and Coming Forth By Day is no exception. She and a tune of mostly rock musicians reimagine tunes associated with Ms. Holiday, many of them well-known standards. “The Way You Look Tonight” allows her alto voice to float over the orchestral arrangement; “You Go to My Head” has a soulful bounce that is kicked along by drummer Thomas Wydler. “Good Morning Heartache” is given an ominous arrangement, all dissonance and dread, as if the thought of another day of personal pain is too great to bear. “Strange Fruit” ends in a blast of guitar and strings cacophony, bring its message of murder home. The album’s coda, “Last Song (For Lester)” was written by Ms. Wilson in Lady Day’s voice, based on the real-life incidents that marred her attending the funeral of her longtime collaborator and friend, Lester “Prez” Young. This is great singing and great arranging - great musical performances all around.