Lester Leaps In – But Can You Find Him?

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LESTER LEAPS IN / YOUNG: Lester Leaps In. Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid. D.B. Blues. MASCHWITZ-STRACHEY: These Foolish Things. RUBY-KALMAR: Three Little Words. JOHNSON-BURKE: Pennies From Heaven. VAN HEUSEN-BURKE: Polka Dots and Moonbeams. HANLEY-MacDONALD: Indiana. YOUNG-WASHINGTON: A Ghost of a Chance. FINCKEL: Up an’ Atom. TRAD.: Blues in G. YOUMANS-CAESAR: Tea for Two / Lester Young, t-sax with various personnel as listed below / Storyville/High Res Audio 2XHDST1117,  available as a FLAC lossless download HERE.

This fine but maddeningly elusive CD features extremely interesting live performances by Lester Young from the period 1951-56. It is ostensibly issued by Storyville Records, but you can’t find it on their website because they’re not distributing it—they merely gave High Res Audio the license to issue it. It appears to be culled from other Storyville CDs by Young, but this version of Lester Leaps In, for one, is considerably different from the one on Storyville’s own 2-CD set issued earlier and reviewed on this blog. Thankfully, High Res Audio provided a copy of the booklet online or I’d never know who was playing what; the inlay from the CD is reproduced below so you can tell who the musicians are:

inlay

Judging from the sound quality, High Res Audio does pretty much what I do to clean up defective old records: they remove as much extraneous noise as possible, boost the treble so that the recordings sound brighter and more natural, and then add a judicious amount of reverb. This gives these old broadcasts a sound not unlike Norman Granz’ Clef (later Verve) records of the late 1940s-early ‘50s. These included Charlie Parker’s best-sounding commercial recordings as well as the spectacular and long-running Art Tatum series. Where High Res Audio’s more sophisticated equipment is an improvement on mine (I just have a little $50 computer program) is in removing the artifact noise without leaving any sonic residue. Indiana sounds particularly good and natural.

As to the performances, they are very good Lester Young if not quite as consistent as his earlier recordings (from the Count Basie period through at least Blue Lester) or the 1952 studio recordings. He plays very nicely, and in fact I’ve never heard his tone sound as good as it does here, but he sometimes seems to coast through tunes, i.e. These Foolish Things, while playing in a much more innovative way on others (such as Three Little Words). One person who really impressed me was trumpeter Jesse Drakes (misspelled here as Drake). Drakes (1924-2010) was a trumpeter who had hung out at Minton’s Playhouse in the early 1940s and later studied music at Juilliard. After playing with such fine musicians as Sid Catlett, J.C. Heard, Eddie Heywood and Sarah Vaughan, he became Young’s trumpet player of choice in his early-‘50s small groups. I really liked his crackling tone and sparkling if not wholly original bebop lines. Drakes later joined King Curtis and played more R&B than jazz. There are no photos of him available online and no one knows exactly when he died; his body, already decaying, was found in his New York apartment on May 1, 2010. (Yeah, I know, too much information.) Interestingly, there are a few hints of R&B style in Young’s solo on this one.

Up an AtomHigh Res Audio apparently doesn’t have a pitch corrector, because there is consistently wavering pitch throughout A Ghost of a Chance which gets on your nerves pretty quickly, despite the fact that Young plays very well on it. Up an’ Atom, attributed to Young, was actually written by Eddie Finckel for the Gene Krupa band (see record label).

All in all, a good if not indispensable Lester Young album. Though if you want to hear him in fairly good sound it’s worth getting.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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