August 20, 2009

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Lester Young, Centennial Celebration
Concord Music Group, July 14

Not much to celebrate in terms of the hard life tenor-sax-man Young lived – court-martialed during WWII for being married to a white girl, this after quitting his family’s band in 1927 because they insisted on touring the Jim Crow-blackened South, and the final insult is that this “Lester Who?” you’ve never heard of had as much influence on his generation’s descendants as Coltrane. Dubbed “Prez” by Billie Holiday, the Count Basie alum could have turned 100 this year if he hadn’t drunk himself to death, and he was probably snockered on one thing or another during the enclosed jazz-club drop-in spots with Oscar Peterson’s 1953 quartet (“I Cover the Waterfront” and his signature “Lester Leaps In”). Luckily for wonks, though, most of the jams on this absolute treasure were captured during a career upswing in late 1956, which found his sax talkative and light upon appropriate cue (“Pennies From Heaven”) but always ready to betray his deep inner bewilderment (“Tea For Two,” though outwardly brisk, has its lonely-dude-lost moments). Other guests: Max Roach, Earl Swope, Roy Eldridge. A+ — EWS