Friday, February 17, 2006

jazz in the mornin' #2: Billie Holiday

I'll admit to never having liked Holiday that much, but I've never given her much of a listen, either, so maybe this will be a chance to change all that.

This week, unfortunately, there is no big article on jazz, just a short Didier Wijnants article in the form of a letter to Billie. The tracklisting is inviting, as it ranges steadily from "Strange Fruit" in 1939 to "Lady Sings the Blues" in 1956.

Notes on the previous volume: it's a bit too one-sided of a presentation of Miles, he's almost always soft and lyrical, I think "Oleo" is the only exception. The track with Shirley Horn is interesting: the drummer plays a metronomic, dynamically unvarying rim-click the whole way through, which, combined with the unadorned arrangement, ends up having the effect of a drone, rather than of rhythmic accompaniment (stasis vs. movement). An effect more associated with spacey fusion than with acoustic straight-ahead.

Not only is the series is great value for money at 5 euros each (okay, 6 if you count the newspaper), it's also better packaged and documented than many low-budget compilations. The CD booklet is generous (24 pages) and written by eminent jazz radio personality Marc van den Hoofd. It starts with some biographical information, followed by a track-by-track rundown. Cleverly, instead of being a dry blow-by-blow recounting, van den Hoofd builds an interesting narrative arc that stretches through each track and gives contextual and/or anecdotal information. Then there's a timeline that sets the musician's personal life events against more general jazz ones (eg. 1939: "Records 'Strange Fruit,' first 'protest song' for Commodore / Alcohol and drug addiction" vs. a terse overview of the 1930s swing period). The back cover has a small lexicon of jazz styles, from New Orleans jazz to Hiphop-Jazz.

One thing I forgot to mention is the brilliant cartoon (by Kim) that's in the newspaper. Last week's was flat-out hilarious, this week's smart and politically-charged as well as funny. I'll try to post them here.