I'm not sure what's going on at Sony BMG these days, but the label seems to have looked the other way, allowing a bunch of techno-goons to slip in and assault the venerable Billie Holiday Columbia catalog.
Curious about the new Billie Holiday: Remixed and Reimagined, I picked up a copy of the CD at Virgin on Friday. I'm always in the market for something new—and I liked some of the deejay interpretations on the Verve Remixed series.
In short, the Billie Holiday CD is horrifying—the musical equivalent of turning 7-year-olds loose at the Metropolitan Museum with crayons to "reimagine" the Impressionists by drawing all over them.
Remember Billie's sexy, pained pleas on All of Me? Here, you'll find the track hammered to a pulp by electronic house beats. I don't even want to tell you what they did to But Beautiful from Lady in Satin.
It's not clear what producers Steve Berkowitz and Scott Schlacter were hoping to achieve here, but the duo and their so-called "reimaginers" clearly have zero sense of Billie, her art or jazz history. I found myself straining to hear Billie's voice through a construction site of scratching beats and migraine percussion. And when I could hear poor Billie, she seemed to be begging from the grave to get her out of there.
If you thought Billie's voice sounded tortured on the original Columbia tracks, you'd cry if you had to listen to what these guys did to her. Thanks, Steve and Scott. What's up next—an EMI electropunk reload of Nat King Cole? Shame on Sony BMG for allowing this level of archival desecration.
Wax groove: On a happier note, David Brent Johnson, host of WFIU's Night Lights radio show, sent along a link to a terrific Ellington clip featuring Betty Roche singing Take the A Train, from the 1943 film Reveille with Beverly. It's a remarkable clip, for Roche's vocal and novelty approach is starkly different than her sassier, more classic version from 1952. As David notes, dig the vocal harmonizing as Roche swings down the aisle of the Pullman Car. Go Duke!
Wax clip: While most of us have seen Billie sing Fine and Mellow on CBS' The Sound of Jazz documentary from 1957, take another look. Carefully watch Billie's eyes as she sings. Man, it's all there. If you want to own a copy of the DVD (complete, with Thelonious Monk's performance), go here.