2. Love is Here to Stay
3. St Tropez
4. Waldorf Blues
6. You're Getting to be a Habit with Me
7. Ballad Medley: A Ghost of a Chance, I Cover the Waterfront
9. St Tropez (alternate take)
10. You're Getting to be a Habit With Me (alternate take)
11. Waldorf Blues (alternate take)
Lester Young - Tenor sax, clarinet
Harry Edison - Trumpet
Oscar Peterson - Piano (tracks 1-3, 7-9)
Lou Stein - Piano (tracks 4-6, 10, 11)
Herb Ellis - Guitar
Ray Brown - Bass
Louie Bellson - Drums (tracks 1-3, 7-9)
Mickey Sheen - Drums (tracks 4-6, 10, 11)
This was one of Lester Young's last studio albums and - like the
final recordings of his great friend, Billie Holiday - there is a
striking poignancy about them. Lester was already a sick man, and
when these recordings were made in 1957 and 1958, his days were already
numbered. He died in 1959, and this album was released after his death.
The original LP contained only the first six tracks but Lonehill has
added two recordings made at the original sessions (the Ballad
Medley and Perdido) plus three alternate takes.
When Ralph Gleason reviewed the LP for Down Beat magazine,
he gave it five stars even though he admitted that "I can't stomach
the disintegration I hear". The signs of disintegration are plain
to hear: Lester's shortness of breath and the way that he ends some
tracks unexpectedly - doubtless because he lacked the stamina to continue.
The alternate take of Perdido even cuts off before it is finished.
And most of the tempos are slowish, for obvious reasons.
Despite the evident drawbacks, Lester still manages to tug at your
heart with his fragile, faltering sound and the album is worth getting
just for the passages where one can glimpse Lester's lustre still
glowing. These parts are more numerous than you might expect. His
mellow tone and understated invention are still here. At the end of
the final track, Lester closes with an assertive upward twist, as
though almost defiantly holding up two fingers to the world which
had treated him so cruelly.
The recordings team him with the more sprightly-sounding Harry Edison,
swinging as implacably as ever - and still using those clichés which
I have noted in earlier reviews. Both Edison and Young prove that
less is more: leaving plenty of space in their solos. Forget those
note-mongers who cram every bar with as many notes as they can: these
two men knew the value of leaving the listener with air to breathe.
The rhythm section on six of the tracks is basically the Oscar Peterson
Trio, recalling happy memories of earlier sessions when Oscar accompanied
Lester in Norman Granz's productions of such numbers as The Astaire
Blues. Both rhythm sections produce a comfortable cushion for
Young and Edison to relax on.
Lester Young was renowned as tenor-saxist but he also occasionally
played the clarinet (at one time impressing Benny Goodman so much
that he was presented with Benny's own instrument). He plays clarinet
on the two takes of St Tropez, starting by sounding as breathy
as Ben Webster but soon taking to the heights of the clarinet - very
like Buddy De Franco. Some of his tenor-sax playing is also very breathy.
This is an album where the listener has to make allowances for Lester
Young's afflictions but, if you can make those allowances, there is
much to savour here.