Savoy’s complete compilation travels through two and a half hours of Lester Young’s studio sessions and rehearsal time. There are several takes for many of the numbers, and the listener has the opportunity to weigh which takes really matter. They all sound great. Some amount to false starts, and others appear to have minor balance differences. Each track comes from an all-star ensemble or big band that features – alongside the revered tenor saxophonist – soloists Billy Butterfield, Hank D’Amico, Johnny Guarnieri, Clyde Hart, Earle Warren, Count Basie, Junior Mance and Roy Haynes. Earle Warren sings “Poor Little Plaything” and “Empty Hearted” with a clear, baritone voice that must have been quite alluring during this time when the world was at war and romantic ballads always hit close to home.
Recorded in 1944 and 1949-50, these sessions find Young with a warm, mellow tone that remained fluid and loose for each situation. His demeanor is a few shades lighter on disk two. Young was in his prime during the mid-to-late 1940s. He was equally at home with swing and bebop. Nearly half of the selections heard here are Young’s. Ten tracks on disk two come from an April 2, 1950 Chicago performance of the Lester Young Quintet. While the recorded sound is uneven and the audience noise interferes somewhat, these selections reveal a fresh front line – in Young and bebop trumpeter Jessie Drakes – which emphasizes the creative spirit espoused by the leader. An accompanying booklet includes an informative, 12-page article by Loren Schoenberg with photos, as well as a complete discography for this recommended, two-CD set.