The saxophone has something of a split personality - soothing and romantic on one hand, raunchy and raw - think honking R&B - on the other.
In the magical hands of Scott Hamilton, it's the personification of musical elegance, the aural equivalent of candlelight and wine. Here Hamilton, a veteran with over forty recordings on the venerable Concord label, including fifteen in fifteen years with Rosemary Clooney, turns his attention to songs associated with Billie Holiday. Produced by guitarist extraordinaire Duke Robillard (who contributes acoustic archtop to a pair), the focus is primarily on Holiday's earlier years when there was still a joyous effervescence to her work, before the world-weariness that suffused her later recordings
The band is Hamilton's own 'home' working band (when he's not out touring on his own). Pianist Tim Ray sparkles throughout, and both bassist Dave Zinno and drummer Jim Gwin provide supple and unobtrusive support. Robillard's guitar adds a nice period touch to the wistful "Fooling Myself" and an equally pensive "I'll Never Be The Same," the former featuring some nice bowed bass from Zinno.
Elsewhere, though, the fare is primarily buoyant. Apart from iconic ballads "Good Morning Heartache," Holiday's signature "God Bless The Child," and a rather moody and atmospheric "You're My Thrill," there's a sprightly "When You're Smiling" to kick things off, along with "Them There Eyes," the suitably jaunty "Laughing At Life," and a bouncy "If Dreams Come True" to complete the collection.
Hamilton is a traditionalist, so there are no major surprises, no radical deconstructions or re-inventions. His inherent respect for the compositions themselves keeps the melody prominent, and as an interpreter rather than a re-interpreter, Hamilton takes his time exploring each tune, gently embellishing and extrapolating with graceful aplomb.
Holiday's life was filled with tragedy, and her decline, at the end, lent an elegiac air to much of her final work. It's nice to hear the joy, the sheer musical elation, just as much a part of her legacy, celebrated in such an elegant fashion. A lovely way indeed to remember Billie, it simply doesn't get much better than this.