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Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia - 1933-1944

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Although her career extended to her untimely death in 1959, the reputation, legend and legacy of Billie Holiday would be secure if we had only these sublime recordings to sustain us. It can be easily argued that her work for Columbia and its various subsidiaries of the time captured Holiday at her peak -- her voice in top shape, her phrasing at its most inventive and her accompanists the best she would ever have.

Holiday is simply dazzling on scores of popular songs, both imperishable standards and ephemeral pop ditties that we wouldn't know without her imprint having legitimized them. Whether applying her vocal magic to "Pennies From Heaven," "A Fine Romance," "I Cried For You," or "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," to pick a random handful from this treasure trove of 230 tracks, Holiday is, well, Holiday. No one has yet to approach her unique way with a song, her lack of vocal technique fully compensated by her inventive manipulation of rhythm, her melodic improvising, and her complete emotional attentiveness.

But Holiday, no matter her brilliance, isn t the whole show here. Attention must be paid to the supporting musicians, including such jazz geniuses as pianist Teddy Wilson, trumpeters Buck Clayton, Roy Eldridge and Bunny Berigan, drummer Jo Jones and saxophonists Chu Berry and Johnny Hodges, among the cream of the swing era big bands who were honored to be in the studio with Holiday. Chief among them was tenor saxophonist Lester Young, whose musical union with Holiday is the stuff of legend. Their weave of voice and horn on "Me, Myself and I," "When You re Smiling," "He's Funny That Way," and "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" is a case of sheer artistic telepathy.

Among the highlights of this deluxe set are revealing alternate takes and recordings of live performances, including those from Holiday's short-lived stint with the Count Basie band. Of the 153 masters collected here, 35 were first released only in 2001. Everything, it hardly needs to be said, is essential listening.

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