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Alongside Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday possessed one of the most distinctive and instantly recognisable voices in all jazz. Dating from 1944 to 1950, Billie Holiday: The Essential Recordings
collects classic tracks from her 15 sessions recorded for the American Decca label. Her voice had matured from the youthful sensuality of her earliest recordings, and here, before the tragic decline of the final years, her singing is at its smooth, haunting and incomparable best. The 16 selections include big band tracks conducted by such talents as Bob Haggart, Sy Oliver and Buster Harding, with outstanding versions of "Easy Living", "There Is No Greater Love", "T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" and Duke Ellington's "Solitude". There are also more intimate arrangements, such as the Gershwin's "Porgy", with thoughtful piano backing by Bobby Tucker, and a deeply soulful version of "My Man". Finally there are several cuts from the sessions which divided jazz purists, those which added string backing to definitive readings of "That Ole Devil Called Love", "Lover Man" and "What Is This Thing Called Love?". As the title says, these are indeed essential recordings. --Gary S. Dalkin