Scott Hamilton: Remembering Billie

Here we have a typically swinging set by tenorman Scott Hamilton, the majority of which features songs recorded by singer Billie Holiday before World War II-her more carefree period, as mentioned in Bob Porter’s liner notes. Accompanied by pianist Tim Ray, bassist Dave Zinno and drummer Jim Gwin throughout-and joined by album producer Duke Robillard on acoustic guitar on “Them There Eyes” and “God Bless the Child”-Hamilton might as well be singing. His delivery is smooth, seemingly effortless and full of perfectly minted phrases.

Even though this is a concept album, Hamilton doesn’t try to inhabit Holiday’s style or mimic tenor icon Lester Young, her instrumental twin. The album opens with an easygoing “When You’re Smiling,” a title that portends the effect this and the remainder of the performances will have on the listener. “Foolin’ Myself” eases along in a lazy swing tempo, and then we have a smoky ballad reading of “Good Morning Heartache,” a song from Holiday’s postwar period. Next is “Them There Eyes”: medium-fast tempo, supple tenor phrases, cooking rhythm section and a driving, hot out-chorus. So it goes, joy in every performance.

The rhythm section has a light touch, with Ray offering economical, Basie-like accompaniment and neat lines along the way and Zinno walking percussively. Gwin listens and turns up the heat strategically.