Whenever a label decides to blow the dust off of a live Lester Young recording, the results are unlikely to disappoint. Such is the case with Live at Birdland, which fits on one disc three different live radio broadcasts.
The first of the three sets was recorded January 15, 1953 and broadcast on NBC radio. Of the three performances heard here, this set curiously features the finest audio quality, though the second two were recorded three years later. In fact, the first portion of the disc is what will make this an attractive recommendation, since it features Prez playing along with the great Horace Silver on piano, as well as trumpeter Jesse Drakes, bassist Franklin Skeete and drummer Lee Abrams. The group stretches out with a couple of Gershwin standards that showcase imaginative soloingparticularly Drakes, which makes one wonder why he never ended up in the same canon as Lee Morgan, Art Farmer and Kenny Dorham. This portion also features a fine rendition of the Young staple "Lester Leaps In," another version of which also opens the disc's second featured set.
The 1956 sets showcase a different rhythm section (pianist Bill Triglia, bassist Gene Ramey and drummer Gus Johnson), along with Don Ferrara replacing Drakes on trumpet, and were recorded on two consecutive Tuesday evenings in August of that year. The sets primarily consist of standards, including the Prez favorite, "Three Little Words." The only problem with this portion occurs due to the Symphony Sid-esque announcer Bill O'Toole, who has a tendency to interrupt the playing with various interjections that weren't likely appreciated by the musicians or the audience.
Though by no means as essential as The Complete Aladdin Sessions or his work with the Oscar Peterson trio, Live at Birdland is a must-own for Prez completists. Additionally, it serves as a time capsule of sorts since the ABC broadcasts are book-ended by an announcement saying that the broadcast was co-sponsored by the US Treasury Department, which encourages the listener to "invest regularly in United States savings bonds.
Oh, Lady Be Good; A Foggy Day; In a Little Spanish Town; Lester Leaps In; Theme: Lullaby of Birdland; Announcement; Lester Leaps In; Announcement; Polkadots and Moonbeams; Up
Lester Young: tenor saxophone; Jesse Drakes: trumpet; Earl Knight: piano; Aaron Bell: bass; Lee Abrahams: percussion; Steve Allen House Band; Count Basie Orchestra.
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