Nnenna Freelon

Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday

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Nnenna Freelon had no intention of making her tribute to Billie Holiday a straight-ahead remake of songs associated with Lady Day. But the danger of straying too far from these well-known melodies is that these contemporary arrangements end up sounding both overblown yet bland. Unlike her Stevie Wonder tribute (Tales of Wonder), where Freelon's interpretations were too similar to Wonder's, she essentially discards the music to many of these songs, while substituting repetitious, often funky vamps that lessen the impact of these timeless songs. "God Bless the Child" begins with narration and is plagued by its dull funk setting. The overly dramatic rendition of "Strange Fruit" segues into a bizarre brisk treatment of "Willow Weep for Me" that mixes post-bop and Afro-Cuban influences. The playful spirit of "Them There Eyes" is gone, replaced by a monotonous contemporary scoring. Better are the slowly savored "You've Changed" and "Don't Explain." Freelon's own compositions stand on their own, which include "Only You Will Know" (a duet with guitarist Andre Bush) and the brief "Interlude-Little Brown Bird." Nnenna Freelon has long since proved herself as one of the best jazz vocalists of her generation, but this salute to Billie Holiday will likely be of limited appeal to many dedicated fans of Lady Day.

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