Lou Donaldson's Lush Life is the sort of mysterious lost session that inexplicably fell through the cracks from time to time at Blue Note Records during their wildly productive 1960s and the sort of collectable that used to make vinyl hawks salivate. This January 1967 session, unreleased until 1980 when it debuted in Japan under a different title (now getting the Rudy Van Gelder Edition treatment), seems to have gone against everything that was happening in jazz (and American culture) at the time.
With Coltrane in his final six months of life and Miles about to enter his electric phase, you can understand why Alfred Lion may not have thought the time was right to issue an album as gentle and luxuriously orchestral as this. Even the players gathered in this octet (including Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner) seem to be harking back to styles they left behind several years earlier. The disc opens with the unapologetically romantic sound of Pepper Adams' baritone, before Donaldson states the melody and then hands it off for a solo from Shorter. Each of the sax players sounds as if he is doing his impression of Ben Webster: Adams on the brawny low end, Donaldson sweetly fluttering on top, Shorter wrapping his arms around the midrange.
No groove, blues or boogaloos to be found here. Only Donaldson and his bandmates exploring the pretty side of their instruments, enabled by Duke Pearson's peerless arrangements, with playing that starts lovely and gets lovelier, as the soloists reinforce and build on what's heard before. Perfect as the soundtrack to a romantic evening for two, the disc carries one caveat: this RVG edition offers no bonus tracks, so at its original 35-minute playing time, don't forget to hit the repeat button.
Sweet Slumber; You've Changed; The Good Life; Stardust; What Will I Tell My Heart; It Might as Well Be Spring; Sweet and Lovely.
Lou Donaldson: alto sax; McCoy Tyner: piano; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Garnett Brown: trombone; Ron Carter: bass; Al Harewood: drums; Jerry Dodgion: alto sax, flute; Wayne Shorter: tenor sax.