Billie Holiday is heard at her absolute best on this attractive two-CD set. During her period on Decca, Lady Day was accompanied by strings (for the first time), large studio orchestras, and even background vocalists, so jazz solos from her sidemen are few. But her voice was at its strongest during the 1940s (even with her personal problems) and to hear all 50 of her Decca performances (including alternate takes and even some studio chatter) is a real joy. Among the high points of this essential set are her original versions of "Lover Man" (Holiday's biggest selling record), "Don't Explain," "Good Morning Heartache," "'Tain't Nobody's Business if I Do," "Now or Never," "Crazy He Calls Me," and remakes of "Them There Eyes" and "God Bless the Child."
This session comes from close to the end of the line (1959) in the erstwhile swinging company of Barney Kessel on guitar, Ben Webster on tenor, and naysayers will be quick to point out that Lady Day wasn't in peak form here…
When Sony/Columbia began its ambitious Legacy reissue project, those who followed their jazz titles knew it was only a question of time before the massive Billie Holiday catalog under their ownership would see the light in its entirety. The question was how? Years before there was a host of box sets devoted to her material, but the sound on those left something to be desired. Would they remaster the material in two- or three-disc sets with additional notes? Would it be one disc at a time? Would the material be issued as budget or midline material or at full price? The last item could be ruled out based on the label's aggressive and very thorough packages of single discs by Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and others.
After years of reissuing Billie Holiday's recordings in piecemeal fashion, Columbia finally got it right with this nine-CD Quintessential series. All of Lady Day's 1933-1942 studio recordings (although without the alternate takes) receive the treatment they deserve in this program. Vol. 1 has Holiday's first two tentative performances from 1933 along with her initial recordings with Teddy Wilson's all-star bands. High points include "I Wished on the Moon," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Miss Brown to You," and "Twenty-Four Hours a Day."