1. Lady Sings the Blues
2. All of Me
3. Good Morning Heartache
4. Lover Man
5. You've Changed
6. Miss Brown to You
7. Don't Explain
8. Fine and Mellow
9. Mother's Son-in-law
10. God Bless the Child
11. A Foggy Day
12. Strange Fruit
Dee Dee Bridgewater - Vocals
Edsel Gomez - Piano
Christian McBride - Bass
Lewis Nash - Drums
James Carter - Tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, alto flute (tracks 1-10, 12)
I recently reviewed an album by Billie Holiday entitled Lady Sings the Blues and now here is a CD paying tribute to Billie and opening with that very same song. Dee Dee Bridgewater is very familiar with Billie's work - as long ago as 1986, Dee Dee appeared in a one-woman musical called Lady Day. She says of this album: "This is my way of paying my respect to another jazz vocalist who has made it possible for singers like me to carve out a career for ourselves".
Of course, Eleanora Fagan was Billie Holiday's real name, and Dee Dee Bridgewater has chosen many of Billie's most characteristic songs for this tribute. Lady Sings the Blues was a song that Billie wrote (in collaboration with Herbie Nichols) and Dee Dee's delivery of it at once alerts the listener to the difference between her style and Billie's. Bridgewater is much more dramatic - one might even say melodramatic - punching the songs home with vigour, whereas Billie Holiday had a laid-back way of conveying songs. The difference is even more marked in All of Me, where Dee Dee starts by emitting high-pitched cries and eventually moves into dynamic scat singing.
Good Morning Heartache is more restrained but still more outspoken than Billie's poignant understatement. Thus Bridgewater updates the songs and avoids imitating Holiday, although her histrionics sometimes feel overblown as a tribute to Billie.
One commendable feature of the album resides in the contributions from James Carter, who provides accompaniments and solos on a variety of instruments. For example, his bass clarinet solo adds to the piteous atmosphere of Good Morning Heartache and he plays a wailing soprano solo on God Bless the Child. Carter's lush tenor sax in Fine and Mellow conjures up memories of Lester Young blending gorgeously with Billie Holiday, although Carter's unexpected shift into funky double-tempo in the midst of his solo imports a very un-Lesterian touch. Pianist Edsel Gomez wrote the effective arrangements and he adds considered solos to such tracks as Lover Man. Christian McBride and Lewis Nash complete a perfect rhythm section, with Christian supplying the only accompaniment on Mother's Son-in-Law.
The CD ends with the biggest challenge: Strange Fruit, the
anti-lynching song written specially for Billie. The difference between
the two singers is evident in the way that Dee Dee wrings every drop
of emotion out of the song, in danger of over-emphasising its message,
where Billie let the words speak for themselves through the compassion
in her voice.
This is not one of those "tribute" performances where an artist impersonates another's style. Instead it pays homage to Billie Holiday by reworking some of her best-known songs for the 21st century. I suspect that listeners will be divided between admiration for its adventurousness and disappointment at its extravagances.