Billie Holiday

Solitude [Verve]

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Billie Holiday's first recordings for Norman Granz' Clef Records present a vocalist truly at the top of her craft, although she would begin a rapid decline soon thereafter. This 1952 recording (originally issued as a 10" LP, Billie Holiday Sings) places Holiday in front of small piano and tenor saxophone-led groups including jazz luminaries such as Oscar Peterson and Charlie Shavers, where her gentle phrasing sets the tone for the sessions, evoking lazy evenings and dreamy afternoons. The alcoholism and heroin use that would be her downfall by the end of this decade seems to be almost unfathomable during these recordings since Holiday is in as fine a voice as her work in the '30s, and the musical environment seems ideal for these slow torch songs. Solitude runs as the common theme throughout these 16 tracks; the idle breathiness of "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)" finds the vocalist casually reminiscing, and Barney Kessel's warm guitar lines frame the title track beautifully. Several of Holiday's best-known recordings came from this session, including outstanding versions of "I Only Have Eyes for You" and a darkly emotional "Love for Sale," making this album far and away the best work of her later years, and certainly a noteworthy moment of her entire career.

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