Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Lester Young...

As I've been on a bit of a Lee Konitz theme for the last 2 weeks, I'll string it out a bit longer with this collection of classic tracks from the 1940s by the father of 'cool', Lester Young.

A massive influence on the 'West Coast' sound of the '50s, his wistful style of melodic improvisation can be heard not just in Konitz's playing but in that of the likes of Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. It was also a subconscious part of my introduction to jazz as kid, exposed to my dad's LP collection which had dozens of Young's recordings.

Probably the end of this particular thread, but if I can find another review to stretch it out a bit further, I will...

Lester Leaps Again - Original 1942-44 Recordings
NAXOS Jazz Legends (8.12074)

Tea For Two; I Can’t Get Started; Body & Soul; Indiana; Just You, Just Me; I Never Knew; Afternoon Of A Basie-ite; Sometimes I’m Happy; After Theatre Jump; Six Cats and A Prince; Lester Leaps Again; Destination K.C.; Indiana; Blue Lester.

Collective personnel: Lester Young (ts); Buck Clayton (t); Dickie Wells (tb); Nat King Cole (p); Johnny Guarnieri (p); Count Basie (p); Freddie Green (g); Red Callender (b); Slam Stewart (b); Rodney Richardson (b); Sid Catlett (d); Jo Jones (d); Shadow Wilson (d).
Recorded July 1942 to May 1994.

If Lester Young needs anything by way of an introduction here then I’m clearly writing for the wrong magazine. I’ll skip the usual preamble and simply launch straight into the music, for although this compilation is all prime ‘Pres’, the selections may not be familiar to everyone.

The first four tracks were recorded in July 1942 and feature a young Nat ‘King’ Cole, along with bassist Red Callender. Interestingly they were released in 12” format so offer longer playing time than was customary in the era. The confidence and the sheer flow of ideas from Young stands is in marked contrast to his troubled post-war years. He is in total command of both his horn and the music he is interpreting. Cole reminds us what a loss he was to jazz , though fans of classic pop may not agree with that sentiment, and Callender’s bass solidly anchors what is unusually a drummer-less session.

The next four pieces are different again. Slam Stewart’s bowed bass is as characteristic of the era as pianist Guarnieri’s Basie licks, and drummer Catlett boots things along in his own inimitable way. “Just You, Just Me” is particularly fine, taken at mid-tempo and with 'Pres' at his most wistful. The remainder of the disc sees The Count himself in the piano chair, along with many of his illustrious employees. For contractual reasons Basie appeared as “Prince Charming”, but listeners can have had no doubt as to the mystery pianist’s identity. “Lester Leaps Again” resembles “One O’Clock Jump” in may respects, and here the other horns lay out to allow Young space to interact at length with Basie.

Closing the disc are four pieces recorded for Savoy in May 1944, drummer Shadow Wilson coming in for Jo Jones with Young the lone horn. Magisterial on “Ghost of a Chance”, and ebullient on “Blue Lester”, picking out highlights on such a well chosen and lovingly restored compilation as this quickly becomes a pointless task.

Young was drafted into military service in the October of 1944. Well documented as a crushing experience, the cut-off date of this collection in all probability marks the start of his downward spiral. These recordings are utterly essential, and, given the Naxos ethos, have rarely been available so cheaply.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, July 2005)

1 comment:

Gregg Brennan said...

NO ONE will believe me, but I love Lester. I always have and well done Fred for putting some. He was one of my first favourite sax players and I never play him enough any more. I will go put some on now...