Jazz CD Reviews

Lester Young/Boston 1950 – Uptown Records

An expressive and incisive saxophonist near his peak.

Published on September 18, 2013

Lester Young/Boston 1950 – Uptown Records mono UPCD 27.71, 64:08 ****:

(Jesse Drakes – trumpet; Lester Young – tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew – piano; Joe Schulman – bass; Connie Kay – drums: tracks 1-14; Jesse Drakes – trumpet; Lester Young – tenor saxophone; Horace Silver – piano; Franklin Skeete – bass; Connie Kay – drums on tracks 15-16)

In his essay on Lester Young written for The Oxford Companion To Jazz, edited by Bill Kirchner, the jazz writer and musician Loren Schoenberg writes as follows: “Young created melodies and phrases that remain a vital part of the jazz language. His solos revealed an architectural perfection that contrasted with their seemingly effortless nature”. In these previously un-released broadcast recordings made at the Hi-Hat in Boston in 1950 and 1953 finds Young in exemplary form with a group of sympathetic musicians all of which add to his already established legacy.

When Lester Young brought his band into the Hi-Hat, he was in his early forties and had confirmed his stellar reputation for his solo work with the Count Basie Orchestra, a series of small group recordings with Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday, and latterly with Norman Granz’ Jazz At The Philharmonic. For some unexplained reason Young seemed to be more engaged on live recordings than in the studio, and thus, despite the so-so mono sound on this disc, Young’s tenor is effusively recorded and is full of his warm tone and swing.

Working mostly from a set list of standards from the American songbook, Young and his band mates sail off into improvisations that push them along with Young leading the way especially on a spirited “Too Marvelous For Words” and an equally swinging “You Can Depend On Me”. Throughout the tracks Kenny Drew’s bopish piano keeps pace (although not surprising for a club piano it is slightly out of tune). A revelation is drummer Connie Kay whose forceful drumming is nothing like his more restrained efforts with The Modern Jazz Quartet. An abbreviated “How High The Moon” starts off in a Latin vein led by trumpeter Jesse Drakes with Young picking up the theme with a strong solo until the song fades out.

Coleman Hawkins built his early reputation with his classic version of “Body And Soul” and consequently most of his contemporary tenor player stayed clear of the tune. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Young dives into the tune with a beautifully nuanced version that can stand on its own. The last two tracks on the disc “Up ‘N’Adam” and “Blue And Sentimental” are taken from a 1953 date at the Hi-Hat with a slightly modified band that had Horace Silver on piano (still slightly out of tune although the overall sound is better). The former is a barn burner which has some driving piano from Silver in addition to Young’s imaginative soloing. On the latter, this comes from the Count Basie band book on which Hershel Evans used to solo; Young makes his presence felt with a dreamy turn supported by lovely comping from pianist Horace Silver.

Not many years after the latter Hi-Hat date, Young’s career started to decline as he retreated into alcoholism and he died on March 15, 1959. Listening to these tracks is a reminder of an expressive and incisive saxophonist near his peak.

TrackList: Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid; Too Marvelous For Words; She’s Funny That Way; You Can Depend On Me; How High The Moon; The Talk Of The Town; On A Slow Boat To China; Indiana; Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid; Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid; Sunday; Body And Soul; Four Flats Unfurnished; Jeepers Creepers; Up ‘N’Adam; Blue And Sentimental

—Pierre Giroux




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