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Year of the diva

Love Songs
Love Songs
By Billie Holiday

Columbia Records: 1996

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New Moon Daughter
New Moon Daughter
By Cassandra Wilson

Blue Note Records: 1996

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Fresh Start
Fresh Start
By Jeri Brown

Justin Time Records: 1996

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Wish Me Love
Wish Me Love
By Dee Daniels and the Metropole Orchestra

Mons Records: 1996

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These reviews first appeared in the May 17, 1996 issue of the North County Times.

Perhaps 1996 is to be the Year of the Jazz Diva. Only a third gone, there have already been a number of outstanding releases by women singers. The folks at Columbia are preparing to reissue on CD format the entire Billie Holiday catalog, and are previewing that effort with a single CD release, "Love Songs." Heir apparent to the mantle Holiday once wore before passing it on to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, Cassandra Wilson continues to startle with her latest release. And fresh voices Jeri Brown and Dee Daniels also impress with new releases.

Daniels has been knocking around the music business for 25 years, according to the liner notes, alternating between the Pacific Northwest and Europe. She's got a powerhouse set of lungs couled to a sensitivity that allows her to tackle material ranging from big band flag-wavers like "Come Rain or Come Shine" something as intimately riveting as Holiday's "God Bless the Child." the rest of the album, with Daniels backed by the top-rank European Metropole Orchestra, is similarly outstanding – with covers of Gershwin and Arlen serving as bookends for a couple of nice originals.

Like Daniels, Brown's new release is her third. And yet, Brown remains as unknown to most jazz fans as Daniels is. Too bad, because no one since Ella retired can scat like this. She has phenomenal range, and the songs – most of them co-written by Brown – provide a constantly changing background, edgy and experimental.

She's also surrounded by stalwarts like Cyrus Chestnut (whose solo on Oscar Pettiford's "Bohemia After Dark" is more reminiscent of Oscar Peterson), bassist Avery Sharp and drummer Wali Muhammed. In a word: Wow.

Wilson takes more chances than any other mainstream jazz singer you can name – including Bobby McFerrin. She takes songs like "Love Is Blindness" by rock band U2, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" by country legend Hank Williams, Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" and the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville" and thens them around so many ways that were it not for the titles and writing credits, you'd never guess they were the same songs.

But no matter: Wilson merely uses the songs' structure and lyrics as a starting point for her highly original approach to improvisatory singing, but improvisation with no loss of soulfulness.

Finally, what's left to be said of Holiday? If you've not heard her, you owe it to yourself to check out someone who was, alongside Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, one of the greatest, most distinctive voices in American music.

This new compilation takes in material from the late 1930s and early '40s. Songs like "All of Me," "Night and Day" and "Them There Eyes" were written by composers like Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, and recorded by Holiday while they were still new.

Oh, and the musicians backing her on these tracks? Just folks with names like Count Basie, Lester Young and Gene Krupa.