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Commodore Master Takes

4.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Audio CD, February 8, 2000
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

COMMODORE MASTER TAKES

Amazon.com

These historic recordings--made mostly in 1939--represent a crucial period for Billie Holiday, who had already achieved some success as a jazz singer recording for Columbia but had yet to really reach her peak as a performer or icon. The Commodore Master Takes, recorded for Milt Gabler's small independent label, were a step towards Holiday's eventual infamy, thanks notably to the recording of "Strange Fruit," a controversial song about lynching that Columbia Records simply refused. Recording with several small bands that seemed to understand the nuances of her voice perfectly, Holiday is in full command of her faculties here, without a trace of her later deterioration. Instead, we have a singer bearing all the bittersweet conviction of the best blues stylists. Songs like "How Am I to Know?" and "My Old Flame" simply smolder, and the band's support is understated, not overpowering. Holiday is the show here. In its own way, that sets a precedent, considering this was still the big-band era, and a jazz singer with such sparse backing was still an anomaly. Excellent liner notes by Orrin Keepnews--who explains how his own relationship with Billie Holiday was sometimes rocky--complete the picture. --Joe S. Harrington
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 8, 2000)
  • Original Release Date: February 8, 2000
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Verve
  • ASIN: B00003G1JG
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,626 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By joe on November 24, 2001
Format: Audio CD
The "official" amazon.com review above says that these recordings wrre made "mostly" in 1939, which is misleading; four of the tunes, among them "Strange Fruit," were recorded then, but the other twelve are from 1944. The reviewer also says that the recordings contain no traces of her later "deterioration," but I hear considerably more raggedness here than on the earlier Columbia recordings. This isn't a criticism; these sides, I think, strike just the proper blanace between the chipper just-one-of-the guys vibe of the Columbias and the sometimes oppressively tragic atmosphere of the later Verve albums.
These are small-group recordings, but the accompaniments are more low-key than on the Columbias and the instrumentalists get much less solo space. So there is nothing here akin to Holiday's relationship with Lester Young on those earlier recordings. On the other hand, the material on the Commodores is superior; she recorded only the finest standards and blues, as opposed to the hokum she was regularly forced to deal with for Columbia. As for highlights, "Strange Fruit" is a remarkable historical document, more effective as moving propaganda than as a popular song. "I Cover the Waterfront" is one of the best versions of a classic tune, and her version of "How Am I To Know?" is especially striking, as she begins her vocal with a dramatically isolated "Oh!" before beginning her mournful reading of the lyric.
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By A Customer on April 25, 2000
Format: Audio CD
A highly-recommended CD. If you prefer Billie Holiday backed by a quartet or piano as opposed to a full-scale orchestra, then this is for you. What makes this a treat is Billie's singing, which is o-so sublime. Her voice is clear, full, and flushed with melancholic phrasing, with none of the harsh tone or roughness that was to creep up in time. Put this CD in your player and be prepared to be transported to a dimly-lit cabaret room in the early '40s, serenaded by Billie's warm, sensual vocals. Some of the songs are cornerstones of the American pop catalog (i.e. I'll be Seeing You, Embraceable You...) that have been covered by other artists such as Sinatra, but Billie makes these songs entirely her own.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Billie Holiday is the most exquisite jazz vocalist of all time. Her voice was like no other, and her phrasing almost always perfect. But even when she was not perfect and her voice a bit ragged, she still had a connection with every song she sang and every song sounded like it was written for her - she could sing anything and interpret every song to fit her own unique style. This is a great CD because it compiles the music from some of Billie's best years. Her voice is top notch on this CD and the band is truly solid. She was always so much more at home with small bands. Though in my opinion not as essential as the Verve collection (Lady In Autumn), this is still a great collection and highlighting Holiday at her peak.
I am hard pressed to think of a Billie Holiday CD I have not thoroughly enjoyed. It is really hard to go wrong with her recordings.
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Format: Audio CD
The Commodore Master Takes has excellent songs all performed by one of the greatest songbirds ever, that masterful Billie Holiday, also known as "Lady Day." Billie could take anything and make it sound better than just about anyone else ever could; and that's truly remarkable. Billie always sang with a great deal of genuine passion; it's as if she was truly experiencing every little nuance of all the feelings conveyed by the lyrics of the songs she performs. She may have left us all too soon; but of course she lives on very well through her songs and music. The quality of the sound on this CD is pretty good considering the age of these recordings.

"Strange Fruit," one of Billie's standards, starts the CD with Billie singing her heart out; and it has a fine piano arrangement as well. Wow! "Fine and Mellow" features Billie squarely in the spotlight; her excellent diction is impressive and it enhances her performance all the more. "I Gotta Right To Sing the Blues" is very nicely done; Billie gives this the royal treatment and she sways gently to give this blues number just the right touch--excellent! I love it.

"How Am I To Know?" has Billie front and center; the quality of this track is really quite good. The music that plays certainly provides the perfect accompaniment to Billie's vocals, too. In addition, "I'll Get By (As Long As I Have You)" stuns me with its beauty; Billie delivers this like the champ she always was and always will remain! "I'll Get By (As Long As I Have You)" is quite a strong highlight of this album; I could never tire of hearing Billie perform this. The brass sounds so good as she sings, too. "I Cover the Waterfront" has a slow bluesy tempo; and listen for Billie to outdo even herself on "I'll Be Seeing You.
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This is a compilation of some of Holiday's best recordings. She has a unique sounding voice that for me carries much more expression than say, Ella Fitzgerald or many others. If you have an interest in Holiday, jazz, or even just that period in music, then this is an easy recommendation.
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