Lester Young ‘The Lester Young Collection 1936-47’ CD (Acrobat Music) 4/5

When smaller jazz formations emerged out of the swing big band era, two key leader saxophonists would dominate as soloists: Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Both enjoyed their own set of fans and it is the latter who is the subject of an early career re-evaluation here. As with other musicians in the same series, Acrobat have seen fit to incorporate the work of Young on a variety of labels, with Aladdin, Brunswick, Savoy and Vocalon among the most prestigious, and consequently this enables the listener to better understand how the musician progressed over time. Lester Young is an interesting musicians to study, partly because of his bohemian lifestyle, like that of his close friend and collaborator, Billie Holiday, but also because his career has been viewed as inconsistent, with the early part of his career regarded as the most coherent. While this writer retains a great admiration for the latter work for the Verve label, it is true to state that Young was especially innovative and creative in his work from the mid-1930s and throughout the 1940s. Some of his strongest compositions date from this era and on this well served compilation, we hear near definitive versions of ‘Lester Leapin’ (1938) and ‘Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie’ (1939), and it is the smaller group combos, such as the Count Basie Kansas City Seven that we hear here, with the likes of Buck Clayton, Freddie Green and Jo Jones among others, all in their youthful prime, as well as some orchestral sides. Three songs feature the voice of Billie Holiday, with ‘The Very Thought of You’ and ‘When You’re Smiling’, the pick of the bunch. A fine introduction to the early years, but do not overlook the mature Lester Young sound of the 1950s on Verve.

Tim Stenhouse