ALBUM REVIEWS : *** 1/2 BILLIE HOLIDAY "Billie Holiday Live" Verve

Does one automatically accord five stars to any sound that emerged from Lady Day's larynx? After all, the original "Lover Man" is on MCA, the definitive "Trav'lin' Light" on Blue Note, the basic "Strange Fruit" and "Fine and Mellow" are on Commodore, and most of the other songs, heard in these concert retreads, are in the magnificent "Quintessential Holiday" series on CBS (six volumes to date). The band on the 1946 cuts here is ragged; the last nine of the 20 songs were taped in the late 1950s, during the final couple of years of her life. If her sound had coarsened and the intonation was minimally flawed, she remained an object lesson in phrasing timbre, diction, melodic reshaping and soul. So the other versions remain first choices, but the audience reactions at Newport, Carnegie Hall and the rest do add a dimension here.

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