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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The one to get for selection and sound quality, 13 Feb. 2008
On the crowded shelf of Billie Holiday "Best of"s a little guidance would be helpful, so here goes: You can roughly divide her career into 4 recording periods: 1. Columbia - 1935 - 1942, 2. Commodore mostly 1944, 3. Decca 1940s, 4. Verve 1950s. This "Best of" covers period 1 only, but what a period it was! The young Billie Holiday was the complete article right from her first recording. Her voice fits perfectly into the small groups at this time with musicians taken from some of the great swing bands of the day such as Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, Ben Webster, Buck Clayton, Freddie Green, Roy Eldridge and her most sympathetic collaborator Lester Young who christened her Lady Day. Sheer class! Unusually for a jazz singer, she doesn't appear to improvise - no scat singing here; but she does something more subtle, stretching a syllable here, giving a little ironic twist to a word there, and in doing so, swings like the best of musicians but sounds unhurried whatever the tempo. There is a generous amount of time given to the musicians for solos, Billie often only singing one chorus, especially on the earliest recordings, but her contributions are precise enough to sound definitive. A lot were recorded on Columbia's subsidiary labels in the days before tape recording so you have to be prepared to accept some surface "hiss". Once you tune into her voice, you forget the hiss anyway. Of all the recordings from this time, this compilation has the most acceptable sound quality with the clearest most distinct sound for the backing band. It also has a nicely illustrated, informative booklet which you would expect from Columbia Legacy. Let's face it, these are some of the seminal pop recordings of the 20th Century, nearly all of them timeless standards - will there ever again be a coincidence of legendary musicians and genuis singer such as this? I doubt it. Highly Recommended.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best available intro, 30 Jun. 2007
Pismotality (London, England) - See all my reviews

There are many, many Billie Holiday compilations of her early (and most agree best) recordings. This 2 CD set, cherrypicked from a complete box set of that period, is probably the best introduction currently available. Sound quality is clearer than the earlier "Quintessential" series, although it's not the very best: the late John RT Davies remastered tracks for a no-longer-available Holiday compilation entitled All of Me to accompany an edition of the magazine Jazz Greats and some of the tracks on Lady Day sound overbright by comparison. But this is a well-chosen selection, although be warned that so many recordings of Billie Holiday at her springtime best are classics that you may well be tempted to explore further.

If you are bewildered by the range of what's on offer out there, Holiday's recordings recordings fall into three broad periods: early recordings on Columbia with small, sympathetic jazz groups (the cream of which is represented here); middle period recordings on Decca with the voice in good form but often with fuller, more arranged backing, even strings (the sublime piano-and-bass Porgy is a rare exception); then finally the long, dying fall on Verve where, even when working again with simpatico jazzers, the voice is pretty much a croak. This can suit some songs of resignation (like I Didn't Know What Time It Was on Songs for Distingue Lovers) but really, the best of Billie Holiday is to be found in the 30s/40s on this double CD.

If it is obtainable at a reasonable price, the double CD Billie Holiday and Lester Young Complete Recordings can be recommended as an alternative; sound quality is mostly pretty good on that, allowing you to hear the interplay between the musicians. And the cheaply priced JSP box set Away From Base of recordings by Basie sidemen has about forty five Holiday (or Teddy Wilson with Billie Holiday) recordings plus many other sides by Mildred Bailey etc, duplicating almost all of the selection on the Holiday/Young double CD. John RT Davies isn't credited, however, and it's my impression these transfers are a little dull. In general, if you're looking for a good Billie Holiday compilation beware: there are many CDs out there of these public domain recordings and sound processing varies considerably. The Billie Holiday Collection Vols 1-4 comes from the same source as Lady Day (ie the Sony box set) if you want to dip a further toe in the water although much of the Lady Day double will be duplicated.

Postscript: the John R.T. Davies compilation, All of Me, is available on Marketplace at the time of adding this note (October 08); as a single disc intro in the best possible sound it can be recommended unreservedly.

A further postscript: while this 2CD set can still be recommended as an introduction to Billie Holiday if it's available cheaply on marketplace be aware that Sony has issued a bargain edition of her complete recordings of that period - retailing at under £20 the last time I checked - and with that single purchase you will have all that you could reasonably need of Billie Holiday at her springtime best.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lady Day, 5 May 2011
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There is not enough words to say about Billie, she is just so smooth, lacey and slithery. Her voice is like a calm stream, it echoes with such sounds of contenment. I could listen to her all day, for me, listening to Lady Day gives me this peace and understanding what life is about and although it may have it downs, you have to live through each day as it comes. Lady Day is the ultimate blues singer that gives you the backbone of jazz, it never gets old and forgotten, its always with you night and day. If you like jazz at its best, this the album for you.....
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