Giancarlo Schiaffini

Rhapsody for Billie

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OK, the text in the beautifully stuffed leaflet is a bit too cramped, and the original concept of twisted versions of songs associated with Billie Holiday is about as strange as they come, but somehow this intriguing recording succeeds on several levels. With arrangements by one of Italy's eminent writers, trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini, who performs exclusively on baritone horn, each piece is turned on its nose so that familiar patterns and words are altered, discarded, and given new life. It mostly works, with the duo infusing a freshness in songs that beg for new interpretations. Occasionally, there are slight disappointments, such as the bold version of "Strange Fruit," which lacks the emotional impact of the original. Silvia Schiavoni's slippery voice descends from the school of Cathy Berberian, with words alternately spoken and sung, shouted and stated. Schiaffini changes each tune into something splendidly different, so that even those totally familiar with the melodies will find themselves in virgin territory. The arrangements appear to be meant for multi-media presentation, but they hold well on their own. The vigorous, emotional spirit of Lady Day is captured eloquently, but those looking strictly for traditional Billie might be shocked, if not disappointed. And yes, there are some of the best jazz baritone horn improvisations on disc.